FeaturedMusicalNorth WestReview

Jesus Christ Superstar – Palace Theatre, Manchester

Reviewer: Anne Pritchard

Music/Lyrics: Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice

Director: Timothy Sheader

Rock opera, Jesus Christ Superstar recounts the last seven days of Jesus Christ, including the Last Supper and the Crucifixion from the perspective of Judas Iscariot, Christ’s betrayer. The story is a candid retelling of The Passion of Jesus Christ as well as covering the trials and rebellion that led to his crucifixion.

This revolutionary musical which shocked theatre-goers in the 1970’s still packs a punch more than fifty years later. The score is creative, being challengingly novel in contrast to other musicals of that time with its sung-through rock opera structure. In this production, a seven-piece band confidently delivers the electronically-charged rock music score, whilst the gifted and diverse ensemble doubles as soldiers wearing masks, lepers, apostles and an angry mob, all dressed in casual, trendy attire reflecting modern youthful fashion.

At the start, actors storm the stage running down the theatre aisles shouting at the top of their voices; the stage set is constant throughout utilising scaffolding with ladders, illuminated crosses, and spotlights changing colours from white to red, gold and blue plus a raised dais in the shape of a cross which is used as both a platform for actors to enter and exit the stage and as a table for the enactment of the Last Supper. A giant cross erected at the back of the stage is hiding in the shadows of the dimly lit stage waiting to appear in the spotlight in the crucifixion scene in the finale. The set functions as a temple, a court and a castle with actors climbing the scaffolding and making full use of the stage.

Some of the audience may have been surprised to see a guitar-carrying Jesus (Ian McIntosh) without his long hair and beard, a powerful Judas (Shem Omari James) and a very camp King Herod (Julian Clary) plus very energetic, and sometimes frantic choreography from the ensemble but their appreciation at the end was unanimous, the production was powerful and captivating and the audience displayed their admiration by standing and clapping demonstrating their longing for wanting more.

McIntosh has a powerful voice and excels throughout; his rendition of ‘Gethsemane’ is outstanding, demanding he hits the highest notes in the show whilst the ever-popular, ‘I Don’t Know How to Love Him’ is given due justice by Hannah Richardson, the one female principal in the show, as Mary. This reviewer is unsure whether the two-minute cameo of Julian Clary as camp King Herod dressed in a flamboyant gold lamé cape, knee-high boots and black breeches actually adds anything to the production.

There is clever use of onstage microphones and strobe lighting; mics resourcefully double as staffs for the priests in ‘This Jesus Must Die’ and fistfuls of glitter are used to good effect in the flagellation section, whilst Judas’s hands are stained the colour of the pieces of silver he betrayed Jesus for. Some of the crucifixion scenes may have been a little unsettling for some younger members of the audience as they are realistically true to life.

Commendations must be attributed to Drew McOnie (Choreographer) and Christopher Tendai (Swing/Resident Choreographer) for their outstanding choreography sequences.

The production stands the test of time and left the audience wanting more

runs until Sat 23rd September 2023.

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The Reviews Hub - North West

The North West team is under the editorship of John McRoberts. 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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