Jesus Christ Superstar – New Wimbledon Theatre, London

Reviewer: Richard Maguire

Lyrics: Tim Rice

Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber

Director: Timothy Sheader

The Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre’s production of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s classic 1970s musical is now on tour. Timothy Sheader’s gig-theatre version was much praised in 2016, and then again when it transferred to the Barbican, but with a cast of over 20 performers, it’s a huge show to take on the road. It certainly looks too busy on Wimbledon’s stage and with so many dancers swirling around the stage, it’s hard to spot Jesus at times.

More a collection of songs than a musical, Jesus Christ Superstar requires some prior knowledge of the Gospels. Perhaps in the 70s that familiarity with the Bible was a given, but now, decades later, younger generations may want to brush up on Jesus’s last days before they arrive at the theatre. It also doesn’t help that, in this production, Tim Rice’s lyrics are not as clearly sung as they should be.

Shem Omari James, as Judas, undoubtedly has a powerful voice, but his words are often lost, especially, and crucially, in the first number Heaven On Their Minds, where Judas begins to question Jesus’s popularity. Also in the ensemble numbers, although all energetically sung, and possibly, a few times, relying on recorded backing tracks, the lyrics are mainly unintelligible, adding to some confusion. The choreography by Drew McOnie is inventive but also frantic and too often distracts from the story.

However, there are no problems with understanding what Hannah Richardson, as Mary Magdalene, is singing and her crystal-clear I Don’t Know How To Love Him, unsurprisingly receives rapturous applause. As Jesus, Ian McIntosh seems a muted figure in the first half but, bloody and bruised, towers in the second half and as he’s lifted onto his cross, barely visible in the shadows created by Lee Curran’s light design, the strangeness of Sheader’s vision becomes mournfully and appropriately tragic. The same people who called for his crucifixion now proclaim Christ as a superstar.

The fact that his resurrection is not part of Rice and Lloyd Webber’s story makes the show a particularly dark one, jarring in comparison to musicals nowadays, and the end of the second act is nearly as abrupt as the first. The rocky, sometimes discordant, songs sound old-fashioned to a modern audience, but ultimately there is drama here. And who can’t be moved to sing along to the title track?

Runs until 18 May 2024 and continues to tour

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Gig Theatre Jesus

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. 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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