Friday, July 30, 2004

Pilate to Co-Pilate*

Dennen and Dude

I met Barry Dennen tonight. He attended the screening of Jesus Christ Superstar at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood and he did a short Q&A session after the film.

The film looked amazing. It was so great to see it on the big screen. Ted and Carl were gorgeous, as was the scenery of Israel. Not since Lawrence Of Arabia have I seen such sweeping vistas of deserts and canyons. So powerful. And the music and lyrics in that show are just top notch. Nothing matches it as far as I'm concerned.

After the beautiful final shot of the shepherd tending his sheep below the silhouetted cross at sunset, the credits rolled in silence. The house lights came up and Barry Dennen approached the front of the theater to warm applause. He's smaller than I realized and now grey-headed and bald on top. I also didn't know he is American! He sang/spoke with a perfect English accent in the film. He lived in England for a long time and is still well known there, much more than here in the States.

Mr. Dennen told us the story of how he got involved in the show. He was doing Cabaret in London with Judy Dench when he met Murray Head through an agent. Murray and Barry became friends and worked on some projects together. About that time, Murray told Barry that a couple of acquaintances were working on a new rock opera called "Jesus Christ" and would he like to get involved with it? Barry went to the studio to meet Andrew and Tim and they played the half dozen songs they had finished so far. Barry loved the music and gladly joined the project. He had a close connection with the show as it progressed from the concept album to the Broadway stage and then the film. In fact, it was he who insisted director Norman Jewison test Ted and Carl for the leads. They had both assumed the roles on Broadway but Jewison hadn't seen either of them before.

"Judas, must you betray me with a kiss?" -- from the 1973 film (above) and the 1993 reunion tour (below).

Dennen has performed the role of Pilate several times on stage since then, and he's kept a busy career of film and TV work over the years. Most recently he joined the current touring production of Jesus Christ Superstar in the role of Herod, and I can imagine what a delightful interpretation he must give.

A short while ago he wrote a book about his early romance with Barbra Streisand. They met in New York in 1960 when they were both struggling young actors working on a terrible play. Barbra wanted to be a serious actress but when Barry heard her sing he told her she had to be a singer. Barbra wasn't really interested but Barry convinced her to give it a try and he directed her first nightclub appearances. They also became lovers during this period and they lived together for about a year in New York. Barbra became a huge superstar shortly thereafter.

A jolly fellow, Barry Dennen today.

After Mr. Dennen made his comments I stepped up to greet him and introduce myself. I told him I had performed the role of Pilate in the last reunion tour with Ted and Carl. "Did you love it?" he asked cheerfully. By then a small crowd had gathered around us and a woman pointed to me and said, "You were wonderful, Scott! I saw the show several times." That was nice to be recognized.

Barry said that he had loved working with Carl on the most recent JCS tour, but that it was terribly sad to see Carl get sick and have to leave the show. "It was so difficult for everyone in the cast," he said. "We watched him die right in front of us."

Carl Anderson, 27 February 1945 -- 23 February 2004

Barry Dennen has a wonderful website with a lot of great stories and information. Some of the pictures in this blog came from his site.

Ted Neeley and Barry Dennen as 'Pilate and Christ' in the 1973 film. Below, Ted Neeley and yours truly on stage 25 years later.

*Special thanks to Heidster for the title. If only we'd taken a picture!

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