Jesus Christ Superstar is the Marmite of musical theatre. You either love it or hate it. Superstar depicts the story of the last few days of Jesus’ life leading up to his tragic and violent death by crucifixion. Written by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber it’s a rock musical that was seen as rather salacious and risqué by church leaders when it first debuted to critical acclaim in 1971.
Now over 40 years since it first had the religious folk in uproar, the show appears to be stale and rather dated thus failing to deliver the provocative and gut-wrenching punch it promises. The production opens with a paunchy Jesus (Glenn Carter in a role which he has previously played on Broadway) being fawned over by Mary Magdalene. The latter is a tender & touching performance by X Factor finalist Rachel Adedeji (and yes her name just has to be said in THAT X factor voice!) Enter Judas Iscariot (Tim Rogers) below a vast crown of thorns hanging ominously above the stage and lighting beautifully honed the scene is set.
Judas is growing increasingly worried by his friend’s claim that he’s the son of God – not surprising really with Jesus giving off a smug and quite lethargic energy. Not what you expect from most famous son ever! With Judas’ whiny voice ringing out my first thoughts were of a teenage boy going through puberty and the inevitable voice breaking that happens. One minute we were up next we were deep deep down with no consistent audible tone.
Concerned over Jesus’s nonchalant ability to upset the Roman priests, Judas begs him to reconsider his ways. The Machiavellian gang of priests led by Caiaphas agree that Jesus must be stopped by any means necessary as he is a positive threat to the Roman Empire. Dark crimson lighting, a large Thurible swaying down, all black-clothed priests who slowly seem to float creepily across the stage and you are given the impression of a ritual taking place with satanic undertones.
Meanwhile Jesus accompanied by Mary Magdalene vows to clean up the temple that has become a hotbed of vice and corruption. If that hotbed of vice and corruption consists of a few scantily clad ladies writhing about as a large lecherous man keeps thrusting up against them. Then it’s X-rated sin city central for you all the way! It brought to mind the saucy seaside postcard humour of a Carry On film “ooh matron!” wink wink nudge.
Mary Magdalene is obviously head over heels in love with Jesus but it’s hard to see why. She’s the type of girl you’d want to pull to one side and say” listen love he’s not worth it he’s far too self-involved, pompous and doesn’t even know you exist move on sweetheart!” Rachel Adedeji does give a relatively stable and believable performance as Mary Magdalene. Her haunting rendition of “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” is surprisingly poignant and heartfelt.
Jesus is then betrayed by Judas who sells him out to the priests and by this point you’re kind of wishing they would just hurry up and get him on the cross. After being dragged in front of Pontius Pilate for his supposed crimes Jesus is given a chance to redeem himself. Pontius Pilate portrayed by Jonathan Tweedie is the stand out star of the whole fiasco with an immense, clear and powerful voice. This is matched with the emotion & care he throws into the character.
Jesus stumbles in what appears to be King Herod’s bath house. Tom Gillen’s outrageously camp Herod with nipple-tassles, garish eye makeup and lascivious writhing was a welcome comedic break from the monotony of the show. Just as we were losing our grasp on the plot the opening spine tingling chords of the show’s title song rang out. Sadly it was accompanied by the nails-down chalkboard voice of Judas (who I honestly thought was dead due in an earlier scene). Confused? You will be!
Bringing us to the penultimate ending: Jesus is violently flogged before being torturously nailed to a huge cross. By this point there were titters galore and one audience member was heard hissing “Jesus Christ! Just die already!” that had my companion and I erupting into guffaws of laughter and tears subsequently pouring down our faces! The lacklustre portrayal of Jesus comes to an end with an exceptionally long sigh.
Just over two hours of our lives we will never get back, ended. As I stated earlier this tired long running show really is the marmite of musical theatre. It totally divided the audience with some leaping to their feet and clapping wildly while others made a frantic dash for the exits in scenes that were reminiscent of the final hours on the Titanic. The Jesus Christ Superstar ship had well and truly sank without a trace.
Reviewed 24 November 2015. See http://www.jesuschristsuperstar.com/uktour/ for tour dates.