Theatre Review: Jesus Christ Superstar

Words: Tanya Louise
Tuesday 09 January 2024
reading time: min, words

This reworked classic hits the nail on the head...

Jesus Christ Superstar Prod Image Sep 2023 (4)

"Wow! Absolutely incredible.  Where to even begin with reviewing The Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre Production of Jesus Christ Superstar at The Royal Concert Hall?

The company is renowned for its exceptional productions, and this reimagining was no exception. The musical, written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, is based on the last week of Jesus' life seen through the eyes of Judas Iscariat, focusing on the political and interpersonal conflicts that led to his crucifixion.

I will say that personally I loved it.  However, I can see that, like politics, or religion itself, it could divide opinion. Due likely to the fact that it is so very different.  I heard a lady behind me at the interval refer to it as ‘very street’, and it kind of hit the nail on the head.

The musical has however always not gone the conventional route. Released as an album, because no one was interested in staging it as a musical,  “Jesus Christ Superstar” knocked former Beatle George Harrison off the top spot in America’s Billboard 200. This then led to producers beating down the doors, with the show making its debut in the UK in 1972.

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Over the years it's had many reincarnations (no pun intended) with cast including a pre Abba Agnetha as Mary Magdalene, and even Tony Hadley as Jesus?? Its last visit to Nottingham was a production I saw at the Arena starring Mel C and Chris Moyles. By that point it had gone full circle and become a very rock oriented production, although still very commercially friendly.  This production, in comparison, has kept the rock element, but gone down a much darker route.

It might have been a cold January evening outside, but the goose bumps I felt in that auditorium were 100% from the performance in front of me.  So powerful was the acting by Ian Mcintosh as Jesus, you could almost feel the torture. No wonder he has such a great resume, which includes “We Will Rock You”.  He knocked those high notes out of the park, particularly during "Gethsemane" which was particularly moving, as Jesus grappled with the decision to sacrifice himself for the greater good.

Playing alongside him as Judas is Shem Omari James, who has one of the shortest bios I’ve seen in a theatre program.  That will no doubt change, again due to his incredible vocals. He bought raw and emotional intensity to the role, capturing the inner turmoil and conflict that Judas experiences as he betrays Jesus

Another stand out performance comes from Hannah Richardson as Mary who gets to perform one of the more known numbers from the musical, ‘I Don’t Know How To Love Him’, and beautifully too.

‘Herod's Song’ to me is always the misfit of the musical, way too jolly to fit in.  Chris Moyles did it in the aforementioned production as a game show host. This production sees Timo Tatzber perform it in a very creepy clown like manner, the fact they kept the jolliness makes it even more eerily sinister.

The ensemble numbers, such as "What's the Buzz?" and "Superstar," were energetic and engaging, and showcased the impressive choreography by Drew McOnie, something which sets it apart from your standard musical.  It’s ultra modern, almost like a stand alone performance art piece in itself.

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The production is directed by Timothy Sheader, who makes excellent use of the stage to create a dynamic performance. The innovative design by Tom Scutt is minimalistic, and almost industrial with a metal scaffolding structure on which the performers and live band appear. Together, along with McOnie, they have created something very special which is both faithful to the original material and excitingly new.

I could go on forever about the use of symbolism within the performance (your gal here studied English Lit) From the use of mic leads to bind and move the crucifix, to the glitter, the silver on Judas’s hands, the final scene between good and evil,  it’s all there beautifully interwoven. I think I could watch it time and again and see something new.

It is a must-see for fans of musical theatre,  and a great effort to introduce performing arts to a new generation. Your gran might not like it, but I loved it.

Jesus Christ Superstar plays at The Royal Concert Hall until 13 January.

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