Jesus Christ Superstar is finally being performed as a rock show, in arenas around the country, just like the good Lord (Webber that is) envisioned when he wrote it in 1970. And with a big budget, an all star cast and a Jesus voted for by the nation (take a bow Ben Forster) it has more potential than he ever could have dreamed of when the idea popped into his hippie haired head way back when. And considering that in 40 years modern dress has been done, done and done again, he’s also lucky to have the Occupy movement and the banking crisis to use as a fitting conceptual setting. The show opens with news footage of riots across the Eurozone, mixed with imaginary news reports discussing the more specific threat of Jesus and the 12; all played out on the large stage screen upon which the whole production is hugely dependent. #itsallverymodern
My excitement at seeing the production was largely about hearing the music I’ve known and loved most of my life, played out in a grand setting – and that didn’t disappoint. As the overture struck up, the music reverberated under every seat, and wailing guitars filled the room. Nothing weird or wacky, no drastically new arrangements – the music sounded just as good as ever. First up for judgement is Tim Minchin, whose brand of dreads and guy liner has clearly inspired the costumes of the rest of the cast. He puts a pretty basic spin on Judas – arguably the main man of the show. He hits all the right notes but his lyrics are occasionally blurred. ‘Heaven On Their Minds’ was great, but ‘Superstar’ – typically sung by Judas from the future – was confusing giving the modern setting of the show, and most of the lyrics would have been lost if you didn’t already know them. Mel C’s performance as Mary Magdalene wasn’t perfect either, with her distinctive pop vocals always on the edge of revealing her Liverpudlian accent, but largely she did a good job, and gave a striking visual. Most people will probably go home with her rendition of stand-out anthem ‘I Don’t Know How To Love Him’ prominent in their heads.
Chris Moyles was well received by the audience, as I feared he would be… His performance as King Herod (which, for Jesus virgins, constitutes a 4 minute appearance on stage) was comfortably enough, just him being himself. He didn’t sing half as well as we’ve heard him sing on various novelty outings before, and his sarcastic tone managed to come across as bored and patronising. The ‘TV talk show-cum-talent show’ setting of this song would be tacky in any other context, but just about pulled through considering the overall concept behind this production. Asking the audience to vote for whether Jesus was a Lord or a Fraud was done with the collective tongue firmly in cheek.
Voted for by the viewers of ITV1’s ‘Superstar’ earlier this year, Ben Forster took the lead role, and pulled it off without a hitch. His rendition of showstopper ‘Gethsemane’ was my stand out moment of the night, and received the biggest ovation. It also has to be said that he was one of the few people on stage who remembered that this show is to be acted as well as sung – obviously upstaging the less experienced celebrities performing with him. Plus, I’m sure even the least musical audience members will have been impressed by his strong falsetto…since there isn’t really anyone out there now who doesn’t know what that is (thank you Saturday night talent shows).
However, I fear that the challenges posed by performing in an arena were not achieved by the creatives. The music sounded great – but in the grandeur of the O2 Arena, the production looked too small – too contained within the traditional stage. Having witnessed in-the-round spectacles and various stage settings in this same venue, put on by far lesser producers of pop shows, I had hoped for a bit more from Lloyd Webber here. Even the much-used video screen behind the stage was small in comparison to the size of the room. For some of the tickets to have cost £90, I fear this kind of theatrical experience wasn’t worth the money. Overall, that was my only real criticism here – but because it was the one thing I was expecting to differ from other JCS productions, it was a considerable let down. That said, listening to one of the greatest musical scores played live by a great band, headed by a perfect Jesus, as loud as you could possibly want – is only ever going to be a pleasure.