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Jesus Christ Superstar

Published 22 July 2016

What’s it all about?

You’re probably familiar with the story. A country is oppressed under foreign rule, and a man of the people, called Jesus, gets a name for himself by preaching in a different way to the clerics of the land. The religious authorities worry about the impact of Jesus’ fame, and, along with his closest ally, Judas, succeed in convincing their foreign oppressors in putting him to death.

But don’t be fooled, this is far more than just a dramatisation of the gospel; entrenched in Tim Rice’s lyrics are poignant questions about materialism, the power of celebrity and the dangers of mob culture, all painfully relevant and relatable in modern society.

Who’s in it?

Declan Bennett takes the title role, offering a convincing portrayal of Jesus as a quiet, almost introverted man, confused and concerned by his fame. Bennett’s impressive guitar skills add further depth to his soaring rendition of Gethsemane.

Olivier Award winner David Thaxton offers a complex and engaging performance as Pilate. Dressed in black, with combat boots and thick eyeliner, Thaxton cuts a frightening figure, yet adroitly demonstrates each nuance of the beleaguered governor’s plight, channelling sarcasm, guilt, anger and fear.

However, from beginning to end, the show belongs to Tyrone Huntley’s soul-searching Judas. Huntley’s voice defies comparison, as he moves deftly from angelic sweetness to searing rock vocals, each word laden with a complex web of emotion. Huntley reveals unexpected, gut-wrenching elements to Judas’ character, portraying him as a man forced to act through love and loyalty, as much of a victim of his destiny as Jesus himself.

What should I look out for?

Lloyd Webber’s stunning score, which seems to reach new heights under the baton of Tom Deering. The sheer range of musical styles, from heavy rock to gentle acoustic, to irresistible funk and silk-like soul numbers, only heightens the sense of excitement, constantly shifting gear when you least expect it and offering new insight into some of the most famous stories in the Western canon.

Drew McOnie’s electric choreography, demonstrating once again that he is one to watch. The movements are ritualistic, rhythmic and forceful, depicting the capriciousness of the crowd as they shift from trance-like adoration to devastating violence, delivered by an unstoppably energetic company.

Who was in the press night crowd?

Official London Theatre spotted a host of stage stars, including Matt Lucas, Samantha Bond, Michael Xavier, Daniel Evans, Hadley Fraser, Samantha Spiro and legendary choreographer Matthew Bourne.

In a nutshell?

This spine-tingling revival of Lloyd Webber’s classic is bold, dynamic and devastating.

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Will I like it?

This is a production notoriously difficult to get right. Initially produced as a concept album in the 1970s, Jesus Christ Superstar relies on the fine balance between music and theatricality. Make it a rock concert and you lose the power of the drama, douse it in theatricality and you risk distracting from the sheer force of the music and lyrics. Regent’s Park Artistic Director Tim Sheader gets it spot on. His use of mic stands, cables and speakers as crucial props hark back to the show’s origins, while the glittering garishness of the temple and omnipresence of the cross (functioning as a runway, dining table and stage) pack a symbolic punch. Sheader brings fresh realism to the piece, giving real pathos to Judas, John and Pilate, and by making Jesus a bit of a hipster, just a normal bloke in high tops, rolling a Rizla – always emphasising his humanity over the divinity proclaimed by his cult of followers.

Jesus Christ Superstar is an emotional rollercoaster; moving, electrifying and horrifying all at once. The audience were on their feet in seconds; I defy you not to do the same.

Jesus Christ Superstar runs at the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park until 27 August. You can book tickets through the official website.


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