AMAZINGLY, it was 50 years ago that the unique combination of Tim Rice’s lyrics and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music, literally created a new genre in musical theatre with their rock opera version of the rise and demise of Jesus Christ.
In addition to being made into a film, it was re-invented in 2016 as a huge open-air production in Regents Park. It is this production that Director Timothy Sheader adapted and enhanced for a tour, which arrived in Wolverhampton last night.
The huge sprawling set, by designer Tom Scutt, fills every inch of the cavernous Grand Theatre stage. It comprises a myriad of spaces set in a ‘Mad Max’ industrial world where musicians and actors merge amongst the gloom and smoke.
The centerpiece, (through it is stage left not centre), is a huge cross, which seems to have literally fallen onto the stage. This serves as an entrance ramp down which the protagonists almost sacrilegiously strut and promenade.
Add to this stunning rock concert lighting from Lee Curran, matching wired microphone vinyl sound and outrageously abstract choreography from Drew McOnie and there you have it in a nutshell -a dream creative team painting the canvas.
Musical Director Michael Riley has a truly driven rock orchestra under his baton, ensuring the music literally pulsates behind the high-energy company. It makes for a relentless and seamless near two hours.
Ian McIntosh gives the ultimate stellar performance as Jesus, charismatic in portrayal and haunting in voice. His ‘Gethsemane’ is simply off the Richter scale.
Shem Omari James is also nigh on perfect as Judas, taking his frustration and guilt way beyond the curtain line and trying to embrace us (but of course we look the other way).
Hannah Richardson is perfection as Mary Magdalene, a voice full of soul that brought the house down with the classic ‘I Don’t Know How To Love Him’.
Ryan O’Donnell convinces as Pilate as does Matt Bateman as Annas and a special mention to Jad Habchi as Caiaphas who could charm snakes with the deepest bass voice I have ever heard.
Timo Tatzber has taken over the role of Herod from Julian Clary now on the tour and does not disappoint, his jokey walk and talk brings a little light relief (but just a little).
The nearly always-present ensemble is a tight team, always proficient – often stunning.
There are many moments to move us, but the39 lashes inflicted on the bloodied body of Jesus were relentless in detail – a gruesome prelude to his crowning with thorns and ultimate crucifixion. You don’t have to be religious to be moved by this and be forgiven for drawing parallels with what’s happening in the Middle East today.
Rice and Webber never quite did another show with as much grit, depth and musical storytelling genius as Jesus Christ Superstar – now 50 years on Sheader’s reimagining is a welcome return feast, for the prodigal – sumptuous on the eyes and joyous to the ears.
Jesus Christ Superstar runs at the Wolverhampton Grand until Saturday, November 18. Click here for times, tickets and more information.