Neeley was born in Ranger, Texas. He signed his first record deal in 1965, at age 22, with Capitol Records. He and his group, The Teddy Neeley Five, recorded an album titled Teddy Neeley. They played the club circuit for years, and at one point their name (on a marquee) appeared in an episode of Dragnet.
In 1968 Neeley starred in the Los Angeles productions of Larry Norman’s rock musicals Alison and Birthday for Shakespeare, with Norman, Richard Hatch and Kay Cole.1 Then, in 1969, Neeley played the lead role of Claude in both the New York and Los Angeles productions of Hair. His work with that show’s director, Tom O’Horgan, led to him being called when O’Horgan was hired to stage Jesus Christ Superstar for Broadway.
Ironically, Neeley originally auditioned for the role of Judas, seeing it as a great opportunity to play a character few understand.2 However, when Ben Vereen was chosen for the role, Neeley signed on as chorus and also became the Christ understudy. This particular opportunity led to his taking on the title role in the Los Angeles stage version (which played at the Universal Amphitheatre) after receiving a standing ovation during a performance earlier in the tour. Castmate and close friend Carl Anderson was touring also as a Judas understudy.
He also performed the title role in Tommy in Los Angeles, which in turn led him to reprise the title role in the film version of Superstar, directed by Norman Jewison, alongside Anderson as Judas. For his performance in the film, he was nominated for Best Motion Picture Actor in a Musical or Comedy, as well as Best Newcomer, at the 1974 Golden Globe Awards.
In August 2006, once again under the auspices of the California Youth Theatre group (now renamed YouTHeatre – America or YTA), Neeley took on the familiar title role in Jesus Christ Superstar live in concert for a one-night-only benefit at the Ricardo Montalban Theatre in Los Angeles, CA. This production reunited him with several of his former co-stars from the original Broadway cast and 1973 film (Ben Vereen, Yvonne Elliman, Barry Dennen) and also paired him with current celebrities (Clint Holmes, Jack Black). National touring cast member Ethan Wilcox was also a part of the production.
In 2006, Neeley began headlining another production of Jesus Christ Superstar. It was originally billed by some as his national “farewell” tour, but Neeley disavowed the claim and the tour became known as the new “A.D. Tour”. The new production was a stripped-down version with staging and set limited to a few risers. The tour was supposed to last through 2007, but audience and critical reception for the show was so great that it was extended into 2010. Carl Anderson, who was originally slated to reprise his role as Judas, died in 2004 of leukemia. Corey Glover, lead singer of the rock band Living Colour, co-starred as Judas early in the tour. Glover left the show to rejoin Living Colour in June 2008, and actor James Delisco took over the Judas role, along with several new cast members for the third (2009) leg of the tour. On the fourth and final leg (2009–2010), Judas was played by John Twiford. Several other cast members returned for the fourth leg including Darrel R. Whitney (Caiaphas), Matthew G. Myers (Simon/Judas Understudy), Rasmiyyah Feliciano (Soul Sister/Mary Understudy), Ethan Wilcox (Apostle/Guard) and Adam Scott Campbell (Peter). The tour ended in Boston, MA on May 9, 2010.
Since the end of the last JCS tour, Neeley has focused on new projects. Further runs of Rasputin and Murder in the First are on the priority list, as is development of his newly written musical work Pandemonium (intended for the Broadway stage). Through his company, Blue Bonnet Surprise, Neeley is developing several new works in collaboration with the Rubicon Theatre Company and Gary Goddard Entertainment. In 2012, Ted performed a new cabaret style retrospective show of his work called “Ted Neeley and the Little Big Band”, from January 20-29th at the Rubicon Theatre Company. Neeley also had a cameo role in Quentin Tarantino’s 2012 blockbuster Django Unchained and contributed a background music track, “Tracker’s Chant”, to the film, which is included on his new CD. Marking the 40th Anniversary of the JCS film’s release, Neeley announced dates for a Spring 2013 tour of his Little Big Band show, featuring musical selections and stories from Hair, Tommy, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and Superstar. The tour began March 15 in Lynchburg, VA at the high school auditorium where Carl Anderson began his performing career, Dunbar High School (Now Dunbar Middle School). Cities originally scheduled on the tour included: Syracuse, Cleveland, Virginia Beach, Roanoke, Asheville, Ithaca, Knoxville, Greenburg, Louisa, Frederick and others. The official release of his new CD, “Workin’ for the Words” coincided with the tour on March 21 in Syracuse, NY. Unfortunately, due to expenses and slow ticket sales, the tour was cut short and closed March 24, 2013 in Greensburg, PA. However, there are plans to regroup and, hopefully, get the tour back on the road as soon as possible.
Ted’s CD “Workin’ for the Words”, as well as the remastered CD for “1974 AD” remain available on the tour website, at iTunes, Amazon, Rhapsody and The Ted Neeley Webstore.
Currently, Ted is booking engagements for the 40th Anniversary screenings of the 1972 film Jesus Christ Superstar. Screenings have already happened in August, September, October and November, 2013 in California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Florida; with future bookings pending in California and Europe in 2014. Ted also appeared for a meet and greet at the Chiller Convention in Parsippany, NJ.