FeaturedMusicalNorth East & YorkshireReview

Jesus Christ Superstar – Alhambra Theatre, Bradford

Reviewer: Jennie Eyres

Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber

Lyrics: Tim Rice

Director: Timothy Sheader

Anyone growing up in the seventies or eighties will have seen that the 1973 film Jesus Christ Superstar was on every single Easter without fail. Full of crazy dancing, a dark storyline (where we all know the ending) told almost entirely through song. It was written by Melvyn Bragg and Norman Jewison, based on Andrew Lloyd Webber and Time Rice’s music and lyrics written three years earlier. It is possible that this film was the first experience of the musical often affectionately called ‘J C Superstar’ by the audience, and it would have been forgiven if, 53 years later the musical now on tour had seemed a little dated, or ‘of it’s time’.

This version of the rock opera however shows no sign of being dated in any way, bursting onto the stage in a newly reimagined version that was initially a Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre Production. From the industrial steel-looking set housing all of the excellent live band, to the costumes that could easily be worn today in less chilly countries than this, everything about the production felt carefully and thoughtfully constructed, and this fed through to the cast, beautifully directed by Timothy Sheader and resident director Alli Coyne.

The last week of Jesus’ life is told through a series of scenes and vignettes, almost an edited highlights if you will, joining him at the peak of his fame and charting his horrific downturn and eventual death. The scenes are raw and emotional and we are exposed to multi-layered and intense characters in a way that is not always in evidence in other productions. The impact of this was that what had previously just been a rock opera became a profound and breath taking experience.

The first half raced along at pace, partly due to the energy of the incredible dancers (who also sing at the same time) – the choreography by Christopher Tendai is spectacular and not in a jazz hands, eyes and teeth kind of way – instead it is the constant undercurrent of the show, movements everywhere are perfectly timed, intricate dance moves utilise jazz, hip hop and contemporary forms along with a strong nod in the direction of the original film choreography which was crazy, wild and full on. It could even be argued that this is the most in sync, beautifully trained cast of any touring production at the moment, so strong is the talent and sheer quality of both their formations and use of space.

There was no big TV name in this production as Julian Clary has finished as Herod and has not been replaced by another well-known star, and for this audience’s should be grateful. Though Clary gained rave reviews it was so pleasing to see a cast working as a whole, without a TV personality or famous person to bring the audience out of the intensity of the production. This musical stands firmly on its own two feet without any need for a ‘name’ to sell tickets for it, and Timo Tatzber who played Herod on this occasion provided the much needed light relief in a brilliant performance complete with gold lamé and sequins.

Ian McIntosh is outstanding as Jesus, portraying different sides to the character, from somewhat cocky young superstar, to tortured soul and angry young man, to the lonely figure in agony by the end. His voice is fantastic, soaring through the challenging score, picking off the notes with ease. His final 10 minutes are a masterclass in realism.

An exceptional performance by Hannah Richardson as Mary Magdalene throughout means that every single song and scene she is in is enriched by her presence and excellent vocal ability. The song I Don’t Know How to Love Him is beautiful and haunting, as is her duet Could We Start Again, Please? with Peter (Josh Hawkins).

Caiaphas (Jad Habchi) and Annas (Matt Bateman) are perfect as leaders of seemingly the world’s darkest and possibly most dangerous musical theatre boy band. Their dance moves are also perfect, their songs are suitably menacing and the addition of microphone stands that are also staffs is a genius touch.

Ryan O’Donnell is an excellent Pilate, creating the perfect balance of powerful governor and frustrated pawn in the Roman Empire, bowing down to peer pressure and the crowd’s demands to crucify Jesus.

The show builds well throughout the first half, but it is the second half in particular that is truly breath taking and exquisitely staged.

In a word, stunning. Get tickets, see for yourself, thank me later.

Runs until 2nd December 2023.

The Reviews Hub Score

One word - Stunning

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The Reviews Hub - Yorkshire & North East

The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Jacob Bush. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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