Ted Neeley – Jesus Christ Superstar

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ted neeleyTeddie Joe “Ted” Neeley is an American rock and roll drummer, singer, actor, composer, and record producer. He is probably best known for performing the title role in the film Jesus Christ Superstar in 1973.

Neeley was born in Ranger, Texas. He signed his first record deal in 1965, at age 22, with Capitol Records. He and his group, The Teddy Neeley Five, recorded an album titled Teddy Neeley. They played the club circuit for years, and at one point their name (on a marquee) appeared in an episode of Dragnet. In 1968 Neeley starred in the Los Angeles productions of Larry Norman’s rock musicals Alison and Birthday for Shakespeare, with Norman, Richard Hatch and Kay Cole. Then, in 1969, Neeley played the lead role of Claude in both the New York and Los Angeles productions of Hair. His work with that show’s director, Tom O’Horgan, led to his being called when O’Horgan was hired to stage Jesus Christ Superstar for Broadway.

Ironically, Neeley originally auditioned for the role of Judas, seeing it as a great opportunity to play a character few understand. However, when Ben Vereen was chosen for the role, Neeley signed on as chorus and also became the Christ understudy. This particular opportunity led to his taking on the title role in the Los Angeles stage version (which played at the Universal Amphitheatre) after receiving a standing ovation during a performance earlier in the tour. Castmate and close friend Carl Anderson was touring also as a Judas understudy.

jesus christ superstarHe also performed the title role in Tommy in Los Angeles, which in turn led him to reprise the title role in the film version of Superstar, directed by Norman Jewison, alongside Anderson as Judas. For his performance in the film, he was nominated for Best Motion Picture Actor in a Musical or Comedy, as well as Best Newcomer, at the 1974 Golden Globe Awards.

Fresh from the success of Superstar, Neeley released a solo album, 1974 A.D., in 1974, and played the role of Billy Shears in Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band on the Road in New York. From then on, he was a frequent musical guest star on network variety programs such as The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, and A Touch of Gold and as a guest actor in network dramas during the 1970s and 1980s, such as Starsky and Hutch, and NBC movies including Of Mice and Men (as Curly) and McLaren’s Riders.

Among his other credits, Neeley composed music for and appeared in Robert Altman’s film A Perfect Couple, and performed the music for the TriStar feature film Blame it on the Night, NBC-TV’s Highway to Heaven, and The Big Blue Marble for the Children’s Television Network. He also wrote music for, and starred in Cowboy Jack Street, at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles.

Visit the Ted Neeley website.

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