Until quite recently, you would go to the theatre to see a new musical already familiar with the music. This was certainly the case with Jesus Christ Superstar, the important collaboration between Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, which was a chart-topping double album in 1970 before it opened first on Broadway (in a hectic, psychedelic extravaganza dreamed up by Hair and La Mama director Tom O'Horgan) and then at the Palace theatre in London, where it ran for eight years.
Apart from the genius and originality of Lloyd Webber's score, which is really a rock oratorio, and the exuberant wittiness of Rice's lyrics, that album featured some of the best musicians of the day: Murray Head as Judas (who, like the devil, has all the best tunes, and is a sort of critical commentator on his saviour's last days on earth); Ian Gillen of Deep Purple as Jesus with a voice of pickled anguish and iron filings; Michael d'Abo of Manfred Mann as Herod; Barry Dennen (the original emcee in Cabaret) as Pontius Pilate; blues mother Madeline Bell and, as Mary Magdalene, 19-year-old Yvonne Elliman who had been talent-spotted by Lloyd Webber singing Blowing in the Wind for £5 a night plus drinks in a club along the King's Road.
Elliman and Dennen opened on Broadway, but Jim Sharman's austere and brilliantly conceived 1972 London production at the Palace theatre made new stars of Stephen Tate, Paul Nicholas and Dana Gillespie while establishing the first (and last) great rock musical of the century. In among the hosannas and hey-sannas, the crowd hysteria and the celebrity assassination, you can hear Prokofiev and Stravinsky, as well as eastern European modernists like Ligeti and Penderecki. When Shostakovich came to London for the British premiere of his 15th symphony, he saw the show two nights running and confessed to Julian Lloyd Webber that, but for Stalin, he might have written in such a way himself. He loved it.
All the considerable public uproar and protest about blasphemy is long forgotten, and a recent rock arena tour even created a new political environment for the piece in the wake of Occupy London at St Paul's Cathedral. The music hasn't dated, or faded, one crotchet. I still shiver with pleasure at the unusually rhythmed (five syncopated beats in a bar) Everything's Alright, the concerted soul shout-out of Christ you know I love you, and the howling anguish of the hero in Gethsemane, with a swelling theme the critic William Mann described as "grandson of Samuel Barber's Adagio".
Rice and Lloyd Webber's show Evita may be more prodigiously talented and extraordinary than JC Superstar (or "Superstore" as I once inadvertently dubbed it at a musical theatre conference), but it doesn't have King Herod inviting Chris to prove to him that he's no fool, "walk across my swimming pool"; nor does it have that unmistakeable sense of raw rock theatre, of fused styles and broken boundaries.
More from the Musicals we love series
• Alison Flood loves Les Misérables
• Laura Barnett loves The Beggar's Opera
• Ben Travis loves Oliver!
• Erin McCann loves Newsies
• Catherine Love loves Matilda