Pope Francis Enjoyed Production Of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’

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Pope Francis isn’t particularly known for love of 1970s musical theater, but he reportedly had a very positive reaction to a recent production of Jesus Christ Superstar at the Teatro Sistina in Rome.

According to Page Six, the pontiff was spotted this month at a production of the musical in Rome. The pope, according to Page Six’s source, “loved the show so much he stuck around afterward to give a proper blessing to star Ted Neely and the entire cast.” The site gave its story the headline “Pope Francis Fangirls Over ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ Showing.”

Neely, who starred in both the 1973 movie version of Jesus Christ Superstar and the current production, had tweeted on December 8 that the pope had seen the show and met the cast; he also shared an Italian TV interview about it. Per Ansa, Neeley had a papal audience in 2014 but was not able to have a one-on-one meeting with Pope Francis.

Jesus Christ Superstar is a 1970 musical by the popular British composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, with lyrics by Tim Rice. A rock opera that was originally a concept album before it was ever staged, Jesus Christ Superstar is based loosely on the New Testament Gospels and ends with the Crucifixion. The musical features such popular songs as “Everything’s Alright,” “I Don’t Know How to Love Him,” and “Superstar.”

The musical has been revived various times on Broadway over the years and was adapted into a film, directed by Norman Jewison, in 1973; a direct-to-video remake of the film was made in 2000. A very well-received live stage version of Jesus Christ Superstar, starring John Legend as Jesus, aired on NBC on April 1 (Easter Sunday) of this year.

Francis is almost certainly the first Pope to view a live production of Jesus Christ Superstar. The musical was once derided as blasphemous, and even banned in various countries, around the time of its debut, so it’s significant that the pope came to see it. Pope Paul VI, per MentalFloss, was treated to a special screening of the movie in 1973, as it was rumored at the time that the soundtrack was the pope’s favorite recording.

“It seems that nothing short of a papal blessing would quiet the naysayers,” a source told Page Six about Francis’ trip to the theater.

The Vatican, in 1999, endorsed a production of Jesus Christ Superstar, which was included in the 2000 Jubilee, during the papacy of Pope John Paul II, per the Guardian.