IT is 47 years since Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice created the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar, setting the story of the Passion to the sounds that were all the rage in the early 1970s.
And mostly it has stood the test of time, the powerful and memorable tunes leading the way to stadium rock spectacle, with a story that everyone knows and never diminishes in its ability to shock.
To translate that ability, however, depends on each individual director. You can perform JCS like a 70s tribute show or as a stark reminder of the horrors of mass hysteria and brutal murder … or anything in between.
YAOS has Jeremy Tustin to direct their big spring show, on stage until 8th April, with Gill Merrifield in charge of the music. The show needs a sensational band, as strong in rock guitar talent as in searing brass, and this show has everything you might wish from the 11-strong ensemble in the pit.
Mr Tustin decided on some technical gizmos for the set, and, had they worked, it might have been impressive. The problems with the extending crucifix ruined the climax of the show on the opening night, but hopefully they will get it sorted. Even so, it’s hard to imagine that the process of strapping Jesus to the cross on two flights of steps that have to be moved to accomplish even the beginning of the scene will become any less cumbersome.
There are moments of brilliance and moments of infuriating repetition. And then there are moments when the movement absolutely wrecks the emotional impact.
Most productions bring the cast back onto the stage after the crucifixion, so it’s what the audience expects. Those that avoid the temptation – as Glastonbury and Street did a couple of years ago – can create an unforgettable climax.
Nick Harris, last seen in YAOS’s award-winning White Christmas, plays Jesus, in a wig and costume that inhibit charismatic movement. That is given to Luke Whitchurch as Judas.
Poppy Rendell’s youth gives a new dynamic to Mary Magdalen’s relationship with Jesus.
Paul Graham brings a magnetic quality to the role of Pontius Pilate, and Duncan Wright’s very unusual Herod was straight out of Guys and Dolls.
There is so much acting and musical talent in this illustrious company that it seemed a pity they were not allowed to play this extraordinary show “straight”. The impact of the story was lost in overly aggressive action, repeated ideas, and worst of all for me, the first note of Judas’s reprise of I Don’t Know How to Love Him – a moment that should tear out your heartstrings – was lost by having Caiaphas walking in front of him.
The production may improve during the run. I hope for subsequent audiences that it does.
(Apologies for the spell check error in the headline)