Nov. 01--CARLISLE -- Ted Neeley didn't set out to play such a recognizable figure, he just kind of walked into the opportunity.
He was playing with his band in clubs in California when a friend, who was an actor, decided to bring him along to an open call for a musical. Neeley said he had no idea what he was getting into, and planned to just see what an actor went through to get one job. When they got there, he followed his friend through the process and ended up auditioning for the show himself.
"I got hired, the actor didn't," Neeley said. "The show was 'Hair,' so I was in 'Hair' for three years. I didn't go to get a job, I was with my band, they hired me. It worked out perfectly for me, because the band broke up, and I got a chance to be in 'Hair,' and I've been in theater and films ever since."
About six months after leaving "Hair," Neeley got a call from director Tom O'Horgan about auditioning in New York City for another show called "Jesus Christ Superstar." He went for the part of Judas, and ended up being cast as Jesus Christ. He said he wanted to be Judas because he could make the character his own, but with Jesus, there are such big shoes to fill, it's daunting.
"The real amazing thing is, over the years, I've had people come up to me after the show and say to me 'Hello sir, I just want to let you know that I am a priest, and I am a priest because of what I was connected to when I saw this as a film as a child,'" Neeley said. "It's wonderful and it's frightening. I couldn't be more honored being a part of this, but when people start calling me their Jesus -- I'm Ted, I was the guy that got to pretend being Jesus in this movie, but I'm not that person. But anything I can do to be a receiver and a transmitter of that faith -- I'm all for that, any way I can."
Neeley again took the part of Jesus for the film version in 1973 -- his first film role, which earned him two nominations at the Golden Globes.
It's been 40 years now and Neeley is still touring around, sharing "Jesus Christ Superstar" with audiences around the United States and Canada. Currently, Neeley is in Carlisle promoting the 40th anniversary of "Jesus Christ Superstar" with co-stars Barry Dennen who played Pontius Pilate and Kurt Yahjian who played Annas in the original production of the film and show. The group was brought to the area as a part of the Save the Carlisle Theatre Capital Campaign.
Neeley said Sherrie Davis, volunteer program coordinator, contacted him about the campaign and that was all it took to get him on board.
"We let the people in the country know that we are doing these screenings," he said. "And it was a perfect marriage to do something for the Carlisle Theatre."
The event is the only one of its kind in Pennsylvania, since the cast members are not stopping anywhere else in the state. The trio will answer the audience's questions before the film is shown in a digitally re-mastered format using the theater's new digital projector and surround sound. After the screening, the stars will be available for a meet and greet. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased online at www.savethecarlisletheatre.org/JCS.html or by phone at 258-0666.
Davis said she hopes the event will encourage people to come to the theater, because it's such a beautiful building that the community is lucky to still have. She said she thinks once people see something at the theater, they will want to save it, too.
"We're trying to raise money, but we're also trying to encourage people to come back to the theater to help us continue to support the theater to stay open," she said. "It's going to be an incredible event -- to see 'Jesus Christ Superstar' in the new digital format and to actually meet three of the stars of the movie. It's a wonderful opportunity for people to come."
Neeley said with the increase in technology and devices, people lose their connection to the arts. He said he hopes people will start to realize how important having a theater in the area is. Neeley said he wants to encourage people to support the theater because it helps the community.
"It's here, and it should stay here," he said. "It should not die, it needs to be here. The community needs to support this magnificent place because what happens when it's gone? If we as a society ... let go of that which brought us here, it's going to be so much more difficult to step any higher. How do we get to the next level if we forget where we came from?"
Email Samantha Madison at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @SentinelMadison
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