Director Bob Tomson tones down the glamour and some of the passion of this rock opera, but Jesus Christ Superstar still rocks nonetheless, even after all these years.
Jesus Christ Superstar is Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s second musical collaboration from the early 70s. Broadly based on the New Testament’s Gospel of St. John, it follows Jesus Christ through the last week of his life, tracing the events leading up to his crucifixion. Such is the power of this story that, more than two thousand years later, and in a nation where Christianity has long been in steep decline, the death and resurrection of Jesus continues to be marked with a national holiday.
Rice’s clever, concise lyrics that cut right to the heart of the matter, combined with Lloyd Webber’s haunting, often discordant music with its sexy, rock overtones catapults the emotional drive of this story deep into the soul. Recognising this, Paul Farnsworth’s design is pared-back and uncluttered, providing just enough to support the telling of the story, without intruding on the performance. This left plenty of space for the performers to fill – but unfortunately not all of them managed it.
On the up side, Cavin Cornwall’s fabulously deep and resonant voice is exactly right for Caiaphas and Tom Gilling’s Herod fulfils all camp and kitsch expectations. However, opening the production with Heaven on Their Minds, Tim Rogers as Judas plays it very safe. We are presented with a thoughtful Judas, whose explosive passion does eventually manifest itself in his final scene, but takes so long to build that his crucial role in the unfolding of events can largely be overlooked.
Similarly, Rachel Adedeji as Mary Magdalene shows great promise, however her beautiful voice contains a range and power that she almost manages to hide: so self-effacing and understated is she, that she almost compromises herself out of existence, With a physical and charismatic presence such as Glenn Carter playing Jesus, you really have to push harder than that.
Used to seeing Jesus portrayed as a somewhat ethereal being - part man part angel - Carter, by contrast, is a very solid, earthy and decidedly human Jesus. Intentionally or not, this shifts the gaze away from heavenly possibilities towards consideration of one of the production’s central and recurring themes: ‘do you think you’re who they say you are?’ – and, perhaps of greater relevance in our increasingly multicultural and secular society, do we?
This was a bit of a mixed bag - frustrating and thrilling by turns - but the music and lyrics still contain enough power to send chills down your spine, and the strength of some performances more than make up for the weaker ones. Superstar fans will no doubt still find this a super show.
Runs until 11th April