Jesus Christ Superstar: Summary & Characters

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Electronic Music: History, Types & Artists

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:00 Jesus Christ Superstar
  • 1:08 Major Characters
  • 3:40 Act One
  • 5:08 Act Two
  • 6:55 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Speed Speed Audio mode
Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

In this lesson, discover the Broadway sensation, 'Jesus Christ Superstar.' Explore the characters and the plot, and test your understanding with a brief quiz.

Jesus Christ Superstar

Imagine a crowded rock concert. People are cheering, there are lights flashing, music blaring, and there, in the middle of the stage, is Jesus. Yep. That Jesus. The New Testament, the Messiah, you know the guy. Jesus Christ is not generally the central figure we expect in a rock show, but that's exactly what makes the 1970 Broadway musical Jesus Christ Superstar so entertaining.

With music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, and lyrics by Tim Rice, this play is technically classified as a rock opera, in that rock n' roll music is used to tell a theatrical story. So, it's not what you'd expect from Broadway. It's also not really what you'd expect based on the Gospels either, with the story told primarily by Judas Iscariot, the disciple who ultimately betrays Jesus, through the heavy use of 1970s slang. So, it's just unexpected all around. But, much like it's main characters and its writers, this extremely popular play has become something of a superstar itself. Ready to see it? Let's go.

Major Characters

Well, we've got a minute before the play starts, so let's go over some of the major characters. Although it's called Jesus Christ Superstar, the story is actually told by Judas, one of the 12 apostles. Judas is becoming concerned that Jesus is taking his message too far, and worried that he will bring the wrath of the Romans down upon the Jews.

The other main character, of course, is Jesus Christ. Jesus, in this play, is only about a week away from his crucifixion, and occasionally comes across a little tense and irritated with his apostles. The play centers around the relationship of Jesus and Judas, men who care for each other but are moving down different paths, but other Biblical characters are important as well. Mary Magdalene is the female lead who finds herself falling in love with Jesus. Peter is an apostle of Jesus who follows Christ but denies knowing him to save himself. Simon is another apostle who has a more radical stance and wants Jesus to lead the Jews into battle against the Roman Empire.

Those are the supporters of Jesus, but as everyone knows who went through a Christian Sunday School, there's more to the story. The main antagonists, the bad guys, are the Pharisees, the Jewish high priests who persecute Jesus. Their names are Caiaphas and Annas, and they see Jesus as a threat to Israel, which leads them to push for his arrest and execution. We've also got Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, and King Herod, King of Galilee, who are important figures in the crucifixion story but are not portrayed as the main villains here.

Now, before the show starts, we should mention a few things about this play. It is roughly based on the Gospels, the accounts of Jesus' life in the New Testament, but most of the dialogue is not biblically founded. Webber and Rice weren't actually trying to make a religious statement here, so that's not the focus, and the reason that so much of the play relies on 1970s-style music, slang, and cultural references. The emphasis is on the relationships between friends, enemies, and followers in a pivotal moment in history as each character discovers something about themselves. And, with that, it looks like it's show time.

Act One

The play starts with Judas singing a monologue describing his fears that Jesus is becoming too powerful and that the Romans will punish him and the disciples. As Judas tries to convince the apostles not to go to Jerusalem with Jesus, the apostles badger Jesus about the future. Realizing that this is getting on his nerves, Mary Magdalene tries to help Jesus relax.

Meanwhile, the Pharisees meet to discuss Jesus' growing popularity. Caiaphas insists that Jesus is dangerous and will bring the wrath of the Romans upon all the Jewish people and rallies the other priests singing that Jesus must die. As this concludes, Jesus and his followers arrive in Jerusalem and are confronted by Caiaphas, who insists that they disband. Simon suggests that Jesus turn his followers into an army and attack Rome. Jesus rejects this idea, sad that his disciples don't understand his message.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account