BATH Light Opera Group’s production of Jesus Christ Superstar marks the Society’s entry into the glittering world of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. Originally written as a rock opera album, it exploded onto the Broadway stage in 1971 before transferring to the West End the following year where it ran for eight years. The show has, by and large, stood the test of time (it has certainly kept the composer’s and librettist’s bank balances nicely topped up) and with its large cast and live band, BLOG’s production at the Theatre Royal was an absolute triumph.
Lloyd Webber musicals rely heavily on spectacle and there was certainly no shortage of that. From the word go, the multi-level set and the atmospheric lighting set the mood well even if, in the opening numbers, we were not always clear as to who was who. But the various groupings and tableaux were most impressive and the final scenes, with the scourging of Jesus, His crucifixion and then, the (no doubt controversial) lack of curtain call were all wonderfully effective. Director Tristan Carter and choreographer David Baxter had a lot of people to move around the stage, and this they did with considerable flair, even if there was, to my way of thinking at least, a surfeit of dancing.
In the role of Judas, Steve Bean could hardly have been bettered. His overall stage presence was outstanding and the long soliloquy leading up to his suicide was one of the many memorable scenes in the show. The slow swinging of the noose in the half light was quite chilling. Jesus, too (Rob Dallimore) was in fine voice. There was a real depth of feeling in his more introspective numbers which I enjoyed tremendously. If some of the more histrionic moments were rather less successful, then this was probably more to do with the fact that the show is over forty years old now and this style of music just doesn’t work so well today.
As the only female principal, Joanna Finlay, in the role of Mary, was playing her first lead with BLOG – and what a debut it was. Her singing voice was exceptional and her performance throughout was one of great dignity and poise. As the best known number in the show, her singing of I Don’t Know How to Love Him was a real tour de force as was her lovely, reflective duet with Peter (Joseph Hollingworth) in Act 2, Could We Start Again Please.
In the supporting roles, David Key-Pugh as Simon and Raymond G Morrison as Pilate were particularly impressive – despite the latter’s rather less-than-flattering costume. So too were Nick Feierabend and Sam Cochrane as Caiaphas the high priest and his slimy sidekick Annas. They made a great double act. And although Jesus Christ Superstar may not be big on comedy, we also enjoyed Geoff White’s cameo role as Herod – a real show-stopping performance. Bravo!
Musical Director Matthew Finch is to be congratulated not only on his obvious hard work with the cast but also for the sensitive way in which he handled his band. Never once was it intrusive or in-your face, and the range of orchestral colour he managed to get from a relatively small number of musicians is certainly worthy of mention. I loved the blend between acoustic and electronic instruments, the Hammond organ-y sounds which surfaced from time to time and the honkytonk piano in Herod’s Song.
Jesus Christ Superstar is a show of set pieces and this production is one of which the company can be justifiably proud. However, I think that there is an inherent lack of drama as opposed to sheer spectacle in the show that is difficult to overcome. Although the story of the last days of Jesus is one that would certainly have been well known to the majority of the audience in Bath, I wonder just how dramatic (as opposed to merely spectacular) it would be to those without this background knowledge. For me, the music just isn’t deep enough to carry the drama along, But that is certainly not the fault of Bath Light Opera Group who gave us a truly memorable evening.
The show runs until Saturday with matinees on Wednesday 1st and Saturday 4th October.