Jesus Christ Superstar

Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, lyrics by Tim Rice
Regent's Park Open Air Theatre
Sunderland Empire

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Ian McIntosh as Jesus
Shem Omari James as Judas
Ian McIntosh as Jesus about to be 'crowned'
Hannah Richardson as Mary Magdalene
Third from the left Bateman as Annas and 4th Jad Habchi as Caiaphas
Ryan O'Donnell as Pilate
Richardson as Mary McIntosh as Jesus

Fact or fiction, truth or lies, whatever your beliefs, this is an amazing story and you cannot beat that. It is the story of the last couple of weeks of Jesus’s life seen through the eyes of his friend Judas and others.

Judas (Shem Omari James) opens the show with the first song. This tells of how his friend Jesus (Ian McIntosh) has suddenly taken to making unusual claims that put them all in danger. Next, we have Jesus, then Mary Magdalene (Hannah Richardson) and the scene is set. I am sure I do not have to tell you the series of events as it is such a well-known story. One can imagine how daring it was to relate it in such a way over 50 years ago.

Although simplistic to say, this is a show in two halves. The first hour is verging on the frenetic, a constant stream of songs accompanied by animated gyrating choreography (Drew McOnie), very assertive. An occasional welcome oasis of calm is introduced, like Richardson’s solo, while a little unemotional. The second half opens with the Last Supper, a more controlled scenario having a steadier pace. A pity all disciples apart from Judas and later Peter are massed as one.

There are some very powerful scenes in it, more composed in the second half like McIntosh’s solo, very strong. There is also comedic relief with a very camp Herod (Timo Tatzber) swathed in gold lamé. A wealth of super-strong voices, but one can find the caption screens at the sides distracting; when certain words are not clear, your eyes drift towards them, though some, like Pilate (Ryan O’Donnell), are always crystal clear to understand.

O’Donnell also gives a very convincing portrayal of Pilate. Character portrayal often suffers due to the quantity of dance and vocal numbers, especially in the first half. While one may be familiar with the story, character development does improve quality in a production—a little emotion goes long way.

The urban-style set (Tom Scutt) with its scaffolding, rigging and rusty metal is well used by the cast as is the fallen crucifix acting as a platform. The visual effects are stunning: flashing lights (Lee Curran), hazy misty smoke and glitter aplenty. There is a great piece of casting (Will Burton for Grindrod Burton casting) in the falsetto voice of Annas (Matt Bateman) contrasting with the bass of Caiaphas (Jad Habchi) coupled with their visual difference as well.

This show was first released as a rock opera album in 1970 because Rice and Lloyd Webber could not raise funding to put a stage production on. The album was such a great success that funding followed, leading to a 1971 Broadway stage debut. It has since gone from strength to strength; a film adaption was released in 1979 with a second in 1999 then videos in 2000 and 2001. As the first rock opera, it was ground-breaking and still going strong 53 years later.

The opening night had to be cancelled due to cast illness, but it opened on 12 June with the company seemingly fighting fit. With 28 in the cast, 24 in the crew and a terrific live band of ten including the musical director (Grant Walsh) and assistant musical director (Kennedy Aitchison), no mean show. Apart from the production itself, the end is phenomenal (director Timothy Sheader), quite breathtaking, and a very fitting end to a great story.

Overall, it is a not to be missed show: super audience, super theatre, super cast, super show. The packed house certainly thought so as the standing ovation proved.

Reviewer: Anna Ambelez

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