Jesus Christ Superstar
Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber
Theatre Royal, Nottingham, and Touring
It's always the baddies who get the best parts. That's accepted by most people in the theatrical business. If you need an example, look at Jesus Christ Superstar. Judas has a far more intriguing role than Jesus who is after all perfection personified.
In this new production - the musical has been going for more than thirty years - James Fox makes his professional theatre debut as Judas. You may remember him from the BBC's Fame Academy and as the singer of the UK's entry in this year's Eurovision Song Contest.
Leave any preconceptions about him at the door. Fox is superb as the traitor who misunderstands Jesus' mission and the novice comes very close to stealing the show.
Fox immediately stamps his presence on the production. His Judas has doubts about Jesus as early as the choosing of the apostles and is troubled by all the adoration the crowd give him. Jesus often looks agitated because he knows Judas is watching over him disapprovingly.
The role allows Fox to use the full range of his voice as his emotions vary from anger and frustration to horror and remorse as he realises his weakness has led to his betraying Jesus.
Glenn Carter has plenty of experience in the title role. He's played Jesus in the West End and on Broadway. So it comes as a bit of a surprise to learn that he doesn't have a particularly powerful voice. He doesn't struggle to hit the top notes but there's not the potency you would expect from the Son of God.
Carter takes second place to Fox until Jesus is arrested. From then on Carter is faultless, displaying agony, hurt and innocence as he suffers a flogging, having a crown of thorns jammed onto his head and crucifixion.
Emma Dears gives a fine performance as Mary Magdalene, giving a touching rendition of I Don't Know How To Love Him, although she looks like a well-bred, refined, middle-class woman rather than a common prostitute.
And Martin Callaghan is delightfully droll as a camp Herod, a throwback to the glam rock era. His bobbing rolls of fat produce laughter, not repulsion.
Directed by Bob Tomson and Bill Kenwright, this production maintains all the successes of previous shows with a few changes. A huge copper contraption representing the crown of thorns hangs over the stage throughout. When Jesus is arrested the soldiers appear to be modern-day riot police and the crowd turn into cameramen, photographers and journalists who are all dressed in black.
Jesus Christ Superstar hasn't dated, unlike some of its contemporaries. It mixes rock and jazz with typical Lloyd Webber orchestrations and ballads. It hardly shows its age at all.
The band, conducted by David Steadman, are tight without drowning out the actors, although a cheap-sounding synthesiser can be heard occasionally, and the whole sound is well balanced.
There's no doubt that another chapter in the Jesus Christ Superstar success story is about to be written. Honours are shared between Carter and Fox. On this performance, Fox deserves at least a nomination for best newcomer.
"Jesus Christ Superstar" runs at the Theatre Royal until October 30th and tours until next July
Reviewer: Steve Orme