Thursday, May 15, 2008

Ted Neeley - The Angriest Jesus

"Real Simple's" June issue has a photo gallery of the Top-10 On-screen Outbursts—the best angry moments on the big screen. The usual angry suspects are here: Peter Finch in Network (he was mad as hell and he wasn't going to take it any more); Sissy Spacek in Carrie, making it a prom to remember, always; Thelma and Louise blowing up an oil tanker with a single gunshot, Jack Nicholson's entire career, practically, etc. But they forgot the angriest outburst of all. Why, Lord, WHY!?

I'm talking about Ted Neeley as Jesus in the 1973 film adaptation of Jesus Christ Superstar. Neeley, the Ranger, Texas native with the improbably sun-streaked shagged hair. Neeley, a blue-eyed, chisel-cheeked, frayed-robe wearing Jesus, who has a few father issues to work out. Neeley, the Jesus who would not go gently into the void, but would screech and demand answers from the sunset over Israel, representing his parentage. Neeley, the Broadway understudy who grabbed onto his big break and never let go; still playing Jesus in the touring company of JCS, at age 64! As Patty Duke so memorably cried out at the end of her angriest role in Valley of the Dolls, "NEEEEELEY!!!!"

In a typically subtle number from the film, Neeley storms the temple like the son of Godzilla, instead of the son of you-know-who, in a scene that plays out like a really scary Grateful Dead parking lot gathering of 1991. Look out! It's Jesus! Although looking at the piss-poor set-design, this is the most depressing flea-market ever to be seen on the big screen, and it deserved to be smashed to pieces in a poorly choreographed musical number.

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