Music: Andrew Lloyd-Webber
Lyrics: Tim Rice
Director: Timothy Sheader
Jesus Christ Superstar is best known as the revolutionary musical that shocked audiences in the 1970s. Opening on Broadway in late 1971, Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber created a novel score which is a sung-through rock opera. The show hasn’t been without its controversies as some religious groups consider it to be blasphemous.
The story itself deals with the final seven days in the life of Jesus Christ, including the Last Supper and his crucifixion from the perspective of the famed traitor Judas Iscariot.
Symbolism is currency in this production from the central cross flanked by scaffolding and par cans which conceals the band, to the mirrored floor-level cross which symbolises the shadow cast by the vision in Jesus’ mind. But most of all, Drew McOnie’s insane choreography! From the opening sequence featuring a call and repeat pulsating as Christ’s message is spread, to the ritualistic sequences with illuminated crosses, to the aggressive crowd sequences at the apex of Act Two, the movement is a flawless visual storybook. McOnie has clearly been inspired by companies such as Frantic Assembly in the composition of his movement. The ensemble trickles in and out of the action like water, very much using the connect, affect, disconnect method to convey meaning. The lifts are seamless and transitions are punchy, with the movement very much being the lynchpin of the show.
Timothy Sheader has used his cast in a versatile way, tightly directed and playing multiple parts. They are a rabble, entering the space aggressively screaming and shouting. The choice to use technical necessities such as mics, speakers, stands and cables as staffs, ropes and ultimately the crucifix itself is a stroke of genius. This minimalist approach to set and props works excellently and allows the audience to be truly immersed in the story. Semiotics in this show have been diligently considered and it packs a visual punch as glitter is used as spurts of blood during the torture scene and we see Judas with silver-stained hands after his betrayal of Christ.
The titular role is played by Ian McIntosh, fresh from his stint leading the UK tour of We Will Rock You. A safe pair of hands, he manages the nuances of the edgy score with ease. In particular, his delivery of Gethsemane cuts through the auditorium like a sword leaving the audience in stunned silence.
His on-stage partnership with Hannah Richardson as Mary Magdalene is incredible and together they create an intense yet unfulfilled love story. Each takes their turn to lead the rabble and each is a convincing and passionate general. Richardson gives a beautifully haunting rendition of I Don’t Know How To Love Him, she is stately yet dishevelled, beautiful yet shamed, and her performance sits comfortably within this juxtaposition.
As is to be expected in a story about Jesus Christ, he does indeed die on a cross at the end of the show. Beautiful and tragic, this scene is visually harrowing and may be a little scary for younger viewers as the company has not shied away from the brutality of the event.
Is the show as shocking as some 1970s audiences found it? No, possibly not, but it does certainly still pack a bit of a punch. Lee Curran designed his lighting as a hybrid between a flashy rock concert and an intimate acoustic gig and it embroiders the action of the show beautifully. This production is the rarest of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s back catalogue in that the story is prioritised over flashy production gimmicks and the score carries a hefty dose of substance. This reimagining of Jesus Christ Superstar takes arguably the most famous story of all time and breathes life into it in the most audaciously beautiful way.
Grab your tickets whilst it is in town, you won’t want to miss out on this one.
Runs until 4 November 2023 and on tour