Jesus Christ Superstar, Bristol Hippodrome and touring

WHEN Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar hit the stage in the early 1970s, it raised the hackles of many ordinary Churchgoers and those in high positions within the Christian Faith. Tim Rice’s oft quoted remark that they did not see Jesus Christ as God, but simply the right man in the right place at the right time, fuelled rather than dampened the arguments.

As the years have gone by and Rice’s lyrics have been more closely studied, committed Christians have tended to find the lack of any mention of the resurrection and the rather sympathetic view of Judas Iscariot’s motives, too sympathetic, but irksome rather than blasphemous. Even those most critical of the show’s content have to admit that, whatever his religious feelings, Tim Rice in his lyrics has told the story of Christ’s Passion leading up to his crucifixion in the most passionate and powerful manner.

And that power and passion comes over loud (very loud) and clear in Timothy Sheader’s restaging of his highly successful Regent’s Park production. It is also clearly etched on faces and wholehearted vocals of Ian McIntosh, Shem Omari James and Hannah Richardson, in the central roles of Jesus, Judas and Mary Magdelene. It would be interesting to discover if all, or any of the trio are true believers. If they are, their passion and belief comes pouring out in everything they do or sing. If they are not, then the old saying “the name of the game is acting” comes into play and says these are three actors at the top of their game.

Playing with equal commitment are Ryan O’Donnell, a viciously frustrated Pilate, Jad Habchi’s aloof, self-important Caiaphas, backed by Matt Bateman’s Annas, and (taking advantage of Julian Cary’s absence) Timo Tatzber bringing a welcome light-hearted moment with his interpretation of King of the Jews.

The ensemble work was a match for any of the principals’ input, one moment showing then doting on every word from the Christ, and the next becoming a frightening, mindless mob eaten up with hate as they called for Jesus to be crucified. All of this under the watchful eye of choreographer Drew McOnie, who moved them in a flash from graceful, loving followers to a thoughtless puppet-on-a-string-like, set of automata, baying for blood.

Spectacularly staged and brilliantly lit, with a mixture of costumes and masks to fit the searing style of the production, visually this is an eye-catching production in every aspect.

Don’t forget however that this is a rock opera, with every note delivered through a hand held microphone, and a score that demands and receives high-powered, high-volume presentation from singers and musicians alike, you have to be prepared to have your ears as well as eyes bombarded, from start to finish.

The tour visits Southampton Mayflower from 25th to 30th March.



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