Last night I attended the first performance of the 2015 tour of Jesus Christ Superstar, produced and directed by Bill Kenwright. I love an opening night of a show, the tension in the audience (which is made up of the creative team, friends and family of the cast as well as the general public like me) and the cast having a really genuine reaction to the applause they receive.
Jesus Christ Superstar, hereafter known as JCS, was a powerful spectacle for the audience. An enormous wooden halo hovers over the stage throughout the entire performance, being used sparingly but effectively to demonstrate location and sentiment. With a singular set throughout, lighting became the key to identify where you were and in whose company. The pharisees set, with its flaming bowls and red lighting, reminded me somewhat of The Temple of Doom, but any cheesy 80s references were soon banished when the voices of the pharisees boom across the theatre. The use of the moving stairs ensured that the single set never became boring or drab, and the cast moved easily up and down the levels, aside from one small slip!
Glenn Carter plays a tortured Jesus whose impact on stage built steadily throughout the show. With notes (intentionally) all over the place, he and Tim Rogers (Judas) worked their socks off to keep Lloyd Webber’s rock musical engaging and a showcase of their voices. Of course Herod steals the show with his toe tapping, hip wiggling number which breaks all the expecations of the show you’ve had so far, much like the Pharaoh in Joseph. Rachel Adedeji as Mary Magdalene gives a focused and understated performance, which beautifully contrasts the rock feel of some other tunes. Rhydian Roberts, another X Factor contestant, glistens in white on stage as a confused and desperate Pontius Pilot.
No matter what the show, I become fascinated by the chorus and always end up picking a favourite who I watch every move of. This is partly due to my unfulfilled desire to be in a professional chorus and partly because I think if your chorus is full of excellent performers, then your show has a great basis. The chorus of JCS did not disappoint, and the inclusion of children, albeit for only very short periods, gave the sound a much broader quality making the cries of “Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ” even more effective.
There are two stand out moments in JCS, and Godspell come to that, which never fail to move me. Those are of course the last supper and the crucifixtion. Kenwright’s 2015 production follows classic interpretations of the story, and creates the iconic images cleanly and effectively. The crucifixtion was gruesome and horrifying, which might not be what you want from a night at the theatre, but is nonetheless a more realistic representation.
This production is far more of a show than the arena tour, as you’d expect, and keeps the cast in traditional clothing aside from the obvious moments. Of course Judas, or Mark Owen as I assumed he was for a brief moment, wows the crowd with the glorious title song juxtaposed against a beaten and weary Jesus cowering stage left. The production left me moved (I shed a slight tear when Mary knelt at Jesus’ feet after his death) and excited to see what Bill Kenwright and co work on next! Plus, it’s always very exciting to be sat in the same room as Bill Kenwright and I’m 90% sure that choreographer Carole Todd was sat to my left. I cannot deny I was starstruck!
This production opened on the 21st January at The Churchill Theatre, Bromley.