To many fans of the 1973 film “Jesus Christ Superstar,” Ted Neeley is Jesus Christ — or at least closely connected on some level.
Even now, nearly 50 years after the movie’s release, Neeley, 77, said he is associated with that role by film aficionados around the world. He even has a fan club based in Rome called “The Circle Turning,” a nod to his often-described metaphoric relationship with his audience during live performances.
“What happens for me is the minute that rush of energy comes from the audience, it gives us the energy to perform. So we give it back to them and they continue giving it to us,” said the soft-spoken Texas native by phone from his home in Los Angeles. “It becomes this circle of powerful, positive energy.”
Neeley is looking forward to forging that connection with Boston-area audiences when he performs with his dear friend and “Jesus Christ Superstar” castmate Yvonne Elliman (who played Mary Magdalene) Friday and Saturday night at the Regent Theatre in Arlington. The two will also host a screening of the digitally restored film at the theater on Sunday that will include a Q&A with the audience — and maybe even a sing-along. All proceeds from the screening will go to the Regent Theatre, which was closed during much of the pandemic. (For ticket information. go to regenttheatre.com.)
”Yvonne and I have been wanting to do this concert experience since we first met in New York for the Broadway show in 1971, but we never had a time when we both were free,” Neeley said. “This was originally planned for Easter two years ago and we had to postpone it. Then we tried it for Easter this year and had to postpone it again. The third time’s a charm.”
The duo will perform songs individually and together from “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Hair,” and “Tommy,” as well as a variety of rock songs and ballads.
Neeley has spent much of the past three decades performing around the world in stage productions of “Jesus Christ Superstar.” A self-described “screaming rock ‘n’ roll drummer from Texas,” Neeley was touring with a band he formed in junior high school when, while performing in California in the 1960s, he caught the attention of musical theater professionals. Later, he also drew the attention of director Norman Jewison, who saw him in an LA stage production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” in 1972 and asked him to audition for the role of Jesus in the film adaptation.
”I went with my band to Hollywood just to see what Hollywood was all about. Ten years later, in 1972, I’m in Israel making a film,” said Neeley, adding that, after all these years, he never gets tired of playing the role onstage. ”Everything that has happened in my professional lifetime has been a matter of right place, right time, courage, and believing that it can happen … literally,” he said. “Now, it’s coming up on the 50th anniversary and I can’t believe it’s still happening from that one project. It’s been the world’s greatest blessing.”