Grand Theatre, Leeds – 8 July 2015
Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Religious tour de force arrives in Leeds over 40 years since it was first performed, and written when Lloyd Webber and Rice were still in their teens.
This version directed by Bob Tomson and Bill Kenwright is a much simplified version from the Arena tour a few years ago. Set back in biblical times, the set is just scaffold and movable steps with a giant crown of thorns hanging over the stage the whole performance. The crucifix is raised up from the stage floor.
But no matter how good a production looks, Jesus Christ Superstar can only work if the score is properly served. Bob Broad as Musical Director makes sure the music is spot on and from the opening bars, it’s a roller-coaster of love, hope, betrayal, politics and pain — brought to loud, rock-opera life by the incredible score.
The wonderfully talented child cast who made Hosanna and Superstar so moving, deserve huge praise
The show explores the last seven days of Jesus, through the eyes of Judas Iscariot, revealing the torment of a man who loves his leader but fears the myth that goes before the man.
It’s a huge, challenging vocal part — but Tim Rogers’ rock vocals delivered, expertly capturing Judas’ despair as he betrays Christ and battles with his guilt. Judas came across as the more interesting character – conflicted about Jesus’ claims to be the son of God and constantly challenging him to be the leader he wanted him to be.
Rachel Adedeji is a rather simpering Mary Magdalene with a likeable enough voice, but Adedeji seems unsure as to whether she is an opera or musical singer and moves between the two. Her rendition of Could We Start Again Please which was sung as if in a musical was much better than her defining number: I Don’t Know How to Love Him, rather arrives out of nothing and leaves it as it found it. The music and lyrics are all there, but the meaning is not brought out as it might be.
Tom Gilling’s King Herod completely stole the spotlight in the show’s only comic number, with wonderful choreography and just the right amount of camp – naked to the waist apart from tasselled nipple pasties – has a ball with Herod’s Song, lasciviously tempting Jesus to perform a miracle for him and sending him back when he refuses.
Unfortunately, Glenn Carter as Jesus seemed smug and unctuous in Act One, making Judas even more sympathetic. But Carters can sing and his smooth, calming vocals switched to tortured, shrieking falsetto was awe-inspiring, particularly in Gethsemane.
The intensity of Jesus arrest, trial and crucifixion made for appropriately uncomfortable viewing, and the production’s clever use of lighting with a minimalist set excelled in the final scenes.
Carter was powerful and haunting – his suffering was almost too painful to watch. His fears for His own death – even though He believes that it will lead Him to salvation. The crucifixion was, brutal.
In Leeds until Saturday 11th July and on tour around the UK