When Jesus Sings

Ted Neely.


And God.

To believe in one is to believe in all three for people like me, because for us they are synonymous. Not the same entity, before I’m accused of blasphemy, but as irrevocably connected as they are distinct.

If you’re a certain age and are a fan of Broadway or rock operas, you know Neely. He was – is – Jesus Christ, the Superstar. And to watch him perform is to know, or at least for the skeptic, to ponder for a moment of suspended belief, that God exists. Neely talks to God, begs of God, rages at God: “…at first I was inspired; now I’m sad and tired…/take this cup away from me; I don’t want to taste its poison…”

In the film version, Neely as Jesus climbs rough desert rocks to the pinnacle of an outcrop as he struggles with the knowledge of his imminent death. It’s a beautiful metaphor. At the top, he screams at God in a voice that transports all of us to the depths of our souls. All you have to say to a fan is “Ted Neely”, and they – we – hear “That Note” and remember the anguish on his face as he asks God, “WHY?” We can feel the emotion, the chills, the tears we felt the first time we heard it, and God knows we wish every time we heard it that it could be that first time again. Somehow, Neely is able to make it that way. No one ever gets tired of the Gethsemane scene. And Neely has performed it, every time, with the exact same level of passion.

I think that when Neely dies, Jesus will be the first one to run to greet him, they will embrace, Jesus will grab him by the shoulders, give him a little shake, look him in the eye and say, “Wow, nice job, man. REALLY nice job!” Then they will walk away together, arm in arm, to talk about what it was like for both of them while they were here.

In his farewell tour interview, there is a clip of someone telling Neely that he changed her life, SAVED her life. He said that’s been common.

How can anyone not see a Divine had at work in that?

It’s a rhetorical question. In my mind, you can take all the string theory and quantum physics ever theorized about what holds the Universe together and roll it into one moment: The moment when art happens. Because God truly exists in that moment, and Neely is all the evidence I need.

Every artist of every medium knows what it means to be in a “Zone”, when the colors blend perfectly; the words flow without thought and you know this is a killer piece you’re writing; the photo is flawless; the notes float out as if on weightless air; when you stand on a stage and know, in the silence, that you are connected to every person in the audience. “It’s as if I wasn’t even involved and something else was doing it.” Those invariably are the pieces and performances that glean the most favorable responses, and I think it’s because they were meant to. To reach a wider audience. To find the person it was meant for. To move someone.

God is in those moments.

Without art, without creativity, we have nothing.

But when people have a burning desire to write down those notes, those lines, those ideas and share them, magic and miracles happen. All you have to do is think of Andrew Lloyd Webber, who is at the top of a small list of people who created the most beautiful works of theater ever, to understand how powerful creativity is. Ted Neely is probably one of Webber’s most famous Broadway performers, and Superstar is the one of the most famous productions that ever came off that New York City street.

I believe God touched them both. To tens of thousands who have seen him live or on stage or screen, Neely brings them to the knees of Jesus. To himself?

“I’m a rock ‘n’ roll drummer from Texas who could hit a high note.”




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