Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics: Tim Rice
Director: Laurence Connor
A holiday treat from ALW? Well, only if you like your Easters loud, overblown and brash. This re-imagining of Lloyd Webber’s musical from 2012 as a stadium rock concert strips every nuance from the story leaving a Jesus Christ Superstar for the X-Factor generation.
Written in 1970, Jesus Christ Superstar was always meant to be a rock opera rather a musical, and so Laurence Connor’s update initially makes sense. Set just after the English Riots of 2011, the action takes place during an Occupy styled protest on a wide and long flight of steps, conjuring up the front of St Paul’s Cathedral. TVs are smashed and a fire burns ,while above the stage a huge screen shows close-ups of the performers’ faces in true concert fashion.
Jesus is the leader of a protest group with the hashtag of Follow The 12, and he’s already acquired quite a retinue when the show begins, and Judas is well on his way to betrayal. With dancers making their way up and down the steps and with musicians lining either side this opening is quite spectacular and the peppy and funky song What’s the Buzz promises great things to come.
However, It’s impossible to maintain this high-octane level, and soon every song begins to sound the same, with the performers shouting out every second line. The songs have their own natural climaxes, but here the singers are required to pack a couple into every verse and chorus. There’s no doubt that the performers can sing, but with no variation in their delivery it soon becomes exhausting.
As Jesus, Ben Forster reaches the high notes of the multi-climatic Gethsemane (I Only Want to Say) with ease, and he may play ‘tortured’ well but he lacks the charisma of a religious leader. The Spice Girls’ Mel C plays Mary Magdalene, and she’s not as bad as you might fear and her voice suits the ensemble pieces, but she turns the mellow I Don’t How To Love Him into a rock ballad. However, this is Judas’s show really, and with scruffy dreadlocks and tattoos Tim Minchin plays a sympathetic environmentalist rather than a villain. Effortlessly hitting every note, Minchin, also the composer of Matilda, is the superstar of this show.
Chris Moyles as Herod, here refashioned as a game-show host, brings some well-needed humour to proceedings helped in part by Tim Rice’s lyrics in King Herod’s Song. But after Moyles’ fleeting performance it’s back to the shouting. The title track can’t come quickly enough, and when it does, it sounds like a Rolling Stones banger.
The final moments of the show do well to put right what has gone wrong, and Nick Morris, who’s in charge of directing the film we see on Lloyd Webber’s YouTube channel, has done such a brilliant job that we forget that there’s a live audience in the arena. And importantly we can view it for free: all what’s asked of us is to donate some money to a worthwhile cause. For this Lloyd Webber, along with other theatres’ streaming services, must be commended. They make these quarantined times a little less grim.
Runs here until 12 April 2020