Jesus Christ Superstar is one of my favourite scores; it’s Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice at their best (well, aside from Evita) and vividly brings to life the last days of Jesus.
This production was raved about during its original run last year, to the point that it has been brought back for an extended run again this summer giving me the chance to both see a show that I love the music too and experience the really unique space that is the Open Air Theatre.
In case you somehow haven’t read the Bible, Jesus Christ Superstar tells the story of the final days of Jesus (Declan Bennett), somewhat seen through the eyes of Judas (Tyrone Huntley). Featuring stand-out musical theatres standards such as the title song, ‘Gethsemene’ and ‘I Don’t Know How to Love Him’, Timothy Sheader’s production roots the story in a kind of rock concert setting which really elevates the score. There are numerous ‘neat’ moments of directions; a tableau of the Last Supper, silver blood money, the handling of the 39 lashes scene; which are aided by Tom Scutt’s design sees the cast wearing varying street clothes, with additions like Jesus wearing literal Jesus sandals and Pilate (David Thaxton) having his Roman wreath ‘tattooed’ onto him. Sheader also doesnt shy away from the more graphic elements of the story towards the end either which was really impactful.
As the titular character, I will admit to be slightly underwhelmed with Declan Bennett’s performance to begin with, in the first act he was often drowned out by the band and also seemed to struggle with the character’s higher notes. However, he really came into the role in the second act, making ‘Gethsemene’ a highlight of the show. The production is stolen, however, by Tyrone Huntley’s Judas. Huntley’s voice is simply incredible (he was wasted in Dreamgirls), and he acts the character’s increasing disillusion with what Jesus has become and then the horror at his role in the plot brilliantly. He should probably be cast in everything, please. David Thaxton is great as Pilate, and other good support comes from Maimuna Memon who really delivers perhaps the show’s most famous song; Phillip Browne & Sean Kingsley as Caiaphas & Annas the ‘villains’ of the piece and Tim Newman offering some impressive vocal stylings as Simon.
The show’s electric atmosphere is also helped by the great ensemble who tackle both the score and Drew McOnie’s athletic and really effective choreography with ease. Stand-outs from the ensemble for me were the ‘Soul Girl’ trio of Kayleigh McKnight, Lauran Rae & Nicholle Cherrie, and in terms of dance, Kirstie Skivington and Ivan de Freitas. The ensemble is incredibly diverse in terms of ethnicity and body-type which is also really refreshing for musical theatre.
This is a seriously good productive of a musical which is really a classic; the outdoor atmosphere really feeds into the feel of witnessing something special and I would really recommend getting to see this if you can by the end of this month.