REVIEW: JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR (Open Air Theatre) ★★★★
May we be blessed at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre to witness one of the boldest musical revivals you’ll see in London this year.
The classic rock opera, retelling the last week of Jesus’ life, was last seen at the O2 Arena after the success of the TV talent show, ‘Superstar,’ to find the performer for the title role. Timothy Sheader’s production takes away the melodramatic nature of the original and replaces it with a neutral rustic design, putting the emphasis, thankfully, on the instrumentation and ‘rock’ genre.
The main impression that Sheader brings to Regent’s Park is turning Lloyd Webber’s classic production from a musical to a gig. He strips the dramatisation, from the costumes to the set, and exposes the rock instrumentation and arrangements to the audience in a construction-like set. The over-the-top 80s nature of the music, particularly the synthesised keyboards, has the potential to become a parody of itself. Nonetheless, Tom Deering rearranges some of the classics for the more intimate space, compared to the recent UK arena tour. This is particularly shown in the central song of the show, ‘Gethsemane,’ with Declan Bennett bringing out his singer-songwriter style, known famously from Once the Musical, with the majority of the song focused mainly on his acoustic guitar. A welcoming change to the classic score, as well as fitting in nicely with the space and his voice, at times feeble but other times mighty, mainly in the second half.
The heavier arrangements brings out a bold energy from the entirety of the cast. Even with the lack of lead roles, Drew McOnie’s contemporary-style choreography puts a strong focus on the ensemble’s limber bodies and motivic routines brings out the intensity of some of the smaller duet and trio numbers. A special mention to the ensemble member Ashley Andrews, who was a complete stand out in his fluidity in the entire duration. Other stand out performances, vocally, were Anoushka Lucas’ portrayal of Mary. Considering her predominantly jazz background, her husky tone made her a genius choice for her mellow-pop style songs. Her relaxed appearance and lack of facial expression sounds back-handed, but it lends itself well to the ‘gig’-style production with the focus being her vocal.
The other performer who finds the balance between the dramatic and the rockstar just right was Tyrone Huntley’s performance as Judas. His vocal is nothing short of a religious experience. His range is superior and projection was never lost in some of the phrases which would prove challenging for some female performers. Diction never lost either, Huntley gives a mesmerising performance to one of the most difficult tenor roles in repertoire.
What blew me away the most was seeing an unashamedly rock musical being heard in a space where I’ve come to see more traditionally musical productions, from Hello, Dolly, The Boyfriend and Crazy For You, where the orchestral sound has naturally suited the venue. No wonder the sound issues were apparent and interrupted the start of the run. However, I hope Sheader chooses bolder repertoire in its subject and acoustic, such as Jesus Christ Superstar, to the park. From this production alone, it’s brought a punch rightfully needed to the annual season.
Reviewed by Barry O’Reilly
Photo: Johan Persson
JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR is playing at Regents Park Open Air Theatre until 27 August 2016. Tickets