Jesus Christ Superstar played 711 performances on Broadway from 12 October 1971 and 3358 at the West End from 8 August 1972. With lyrics by Tim Rice it was the first of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s long succession of super hits.
Clothed in a musical coat of many colours harsh discordant rock, cryptic cabaret, haunting ballads Superstar presents the last seven days of the life of Jesus the man, seen essentially through the eyes of Judas, who opens the show. As the musical director of this production, Jacqui Cuny, notes “the music is filled with an intensity and drive that carries its audience on a passionate journey”.
To realise the passion, this journey to the Cross demands singers who can act, and can draw us into its tragedy of very human love, devotion, betrayal, denial and death. It also demands staging that complements the energy and intensity of the music and lyrics, and avoids the pitfalls of tortured, mystical melodrama.
Musically and vocally secure, Savoyards’ production by Liz Quinn succeeds in its choreographed (Philippa Hall) ensemble elements. In these we feel the energy released and travel with it. In its dramatic sequences the production lacks complementary action and lapses into static, often overcrowded tableaux. It traps itself between the man and the Messiah and condemns Jesus (Ross Muirhead) to a night in the dramatic wilderness where we admire his vocal ability without experiencing Christ’s three years’ profound uncertainty about God’s meaning and purpose for his life and death.
As his kissing nemesis, Judas (Greg Quinn) often appeared too intent on vocal gymnastics to fully realise the character’s complex and confused motivations of love for the man and fear of the emerging Messiah’s cult status among his followers.
Until the Last Supper, the other disciples were lost in the crowd. Greg Toohey’s dream-haunted Pontius Pilate was regrettably upstaged by his ever-present and silently busy co-pilot wife. As the historically intriguing Mary Magdalene, Kathleen Lamont offered sensitivity but lacked the sensuality latent in her ballad, ‘I Don’t Know How to Love Him.’
Overall, the production’s failure to distil the human essences of this ‘monumental piece of theatre’ left the stage open for Andrew Scheiwe’s totally rounded Herod cabaret show-piece to steal the night.
Directed by Liz Quinn
Playing March 17 (8pm),18 (1.30 and 7.30pm), 19 (1.30pm)
Running time: about 2 hours 20 minutes, including interval