The revival of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar has made its way to Cardiff’s Donald Gordon Theater at the Wales Millennium Centre.
The musical come rock concert is reflective of the rock era, the legendary score includes songs such as ‘I Don’t Know How to Love Him’, ‘Gethsemane’ and ‘Superstar’.
Featuring lyrics and music by Emmy, GRAMMY, Oscar and Tony winners Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, this production was reimagined by London’s Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre where it originated and is helmed by director Timothy Sheader and choreographer Drew McOnie.
The story of Jesus Christ Superstar for those who do not know, is set in the final weeks of the life of Jesus told from Judas’ point of view. You’ll see Judas betraying Jesus for silver, The Last Supper, and Peter’s denial of Christ to name but a few.
Ian McInntosh plays a weary yet determined Jesus in the lead up to the crucifixion. We get insight into the struggles, conflict and personal relationships between Jesus, Judas, Mary Magdalene, his disciples and the Roman Empire’s part in the story and Jesus’ death.
Shem Omari James truly takes on the role of Judas and depicts the disgust for Jesus’ relationship with Mary Magdalene so vehemently it’s believable. In the song ‘Strange Thing/ Mystifying’ there’s insight that it’s done out of concern, the inconsistent image Jesus’ actions portrays to his followers and the potential consequences this could have with the Roman Empire watching closely.
Enter the Romans with dramatic pomp and an air of authority about them, Caiaphas (Jad Habchi) and Annnas (Matt Bateman) for me were outstanding. With two contrasting vocals that meld together so harmoniously, it was a joy to watch them perform.
The song I was most looking forward to had to be ‘I Don’t Know How to Love Him’ sung by Mary Magdalene. Hannah Richardson, embodies compassion and empathy for the role and has an amazing singing voice.
I didn’t quite get the same emotional connection when listening to this new version of the song as when listening to Yvonne Elliman’s goosebump inducing rendition. It felt very much like a loud pop song rather than the sweet lament I was expecting.
With a dramatic ending to Act 1 and great symbolism with Judas’ hands covered in silver, the audience has a visual representation of the betrayal and the double meaning of Judas having blood on his hands. This is continued into the second half of the performance.
The opening to the second Act was great, the creative team really impressed with the choreographed depiction mirroring the mural ‘The Last Supper’ by Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci.
When you feel like you’ve got a grasps of the musical and the genre ‘King Herod’s song’ starts, what can only be described as a 1920’s carnival act commences on stage. A very upbeat and fun song in comparison to the rest and Timo Tatzber is energised for the performance. A slight wardrobe mishap with the headpiece but the show carries on.
The lashing and crucifixion of Jesus were hard hitting, although the 39 lashes were artistically represented through music and glitter there’s something about them being counted out loud that leaves you with chills, and a lump in your throat. It was very surreal and brought the auditorium to tears, almost.
The entire ensemble were amazing, with demanding dance pieces one after the other, choreographer Drew McOnie has really brought modern theatrical dance to this reimagined version of Superstar.
Staging was simple but effective, with a giant cross centre stage and the musicians on stage – something we’re seeing more often – everyone is incorporated into the performance.
Music volume is significantly louder than a standard musical (my apple watch warned me several times about the decibel level) and definitely reminiscent of a rock concert. Were the volumes always where they should, no as at times it felt like a fight between the backing music and vocals to be heard, but throughout the show it improved.
Completing the creative team is design by Tom Scutt, lighting design by Lee Curran, sound design by Nick Lidster and music supervision by Tom Deering.
One of the things I didn’t really understand was the choice to use hand held microphones over the standard lavalier microphones for most of the main roles, the handing off from one actor to another took away from the performance at times, my guess is that the production team really want to play on the rock concert angle as opposed to the musical theatre aspect.
Superstar is not your average musical as this story is told purely through song and dance. For those who don’t really know the story of Jesus and Judas, it may not be as easy to follow along with the removal of any dialogue. Though we found the second Act is more linear.
You don’t have to be religious to enjoy this rock concert turned musical.
Age guidance: 10+ (Please note this performance contains mature themes and depictions of violence).
Start time: Mon – Sat 7:30pm
Thu – Sat 2:30pm
Running time: approximately 2 hours including interval
You can find out more details on performance times and book tickets here.