Jesus Christ Superstar @ Grand Opera House York Review

Lloyd Webber‘s sexy reinvention of the Easter story is currently on tour across the UK. To call Jesus Christ Superstar a musical seems a bit tame: it’s a rock opera rich with excellent technical touches and incredibly strong vocals from the ensemble cast.

Pamela Raith

Pamela Raith

Admittedly, it takes a little getting used to: the electronic score and glam rock falsetto from Glenn Carter‘s Jesus fit the edgy nature of Jesus’ attitude to worship nicely against the musical backdrop of 1972. Over forty years on, the musical choices might at first appear dated, especially to a younger crowd. Still, as the show progresses the rock pieces are all the better for their contrast with the ominous feel within Jerusalem as the support and connections about Jesus and Judas crash to the ground.

It’s a very glitzy affair to say the least, and far from a church sermon. It seems ridiculously obvious to say, but there we are. Tom Gilling‘s deviant Herod is delightfully frivolous and his musical number completely immerses the audience within his boudoir. It is bizarre that a musical which sets up overt sexuality only in characters we aren’t meant to sympathise with (Herod and the prostitutes in the temple, whereas Rachel Adedeji‘s Mary Magdalene is far more demure and turns away when accused of her livelihood) also first displays Christ with swagger, astride with a leg up on the next stair.

As the performance progresses, we see Carter’s Jesus display the emotions we all expect far more, though perhaps this first appearance is to show the view of Jesus from Judas’ viewpoint. Likewise, the period set and costuming is discarded briefly with the inclusion of paparazzi and tabloid journalists in act two- the likening of attitudes to sensationalist press admittedly works superbly, but it feels like the only anachronism in a show which is committed to its period presentation. Technically, it’s a brilliant spectacle to behold: Carole Todd’s choreography is on point, and Nick Richings‘ lighting design is also incredibly effective.

However for all its glamour, the solo performances stripped of all glitz are truly show-stopping. Adedeji and Edward Handoll singing ‘Could We Start Again, Please?’ is one of the most powerful songs in the second act, packing an emotional punch whilst maintaining all the tenderness required of them. Tim Rogers and Carter make the chemistry between Judas and Jesus fizzle, and both deliver death performances which have the breath catching in my throat.

These completely heartbreaking performances are the dramatic climax of the piece, and the crucifixion is every bit as bleak and arresting as it needs to be. In this scene, we see the height of Carter’s abilities as much as we do when he’s belting Gethsemane. Be prepared for the retro feel of the score, but it’s hardly a qualm you’ll leave with when you’ve been treated with such a soul-filled ensemble. 4/5

Review written by Louise Jones.

Jesus Christ Superstar is currently showing at the Grand Opera House York until Saturday 17th October. For more information on the production, visit here…

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