Jesus Christ Superstar takes to the “rock’n’roll” arena. It isn’t good.
“Why waste your breath moaning at the crowd?
Nothing can be done to stop the shouting.”
Amidst the deluge of theatrical content emerging online, it can be quite hard to make decisions about what to actually watch. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s release of the 2012 live arena tour of Jesus Christ Superstar stood out for me as though I did go and see it at the O2, we were seated at the back of the cavernous space and so the opportunity to actually see what happened on the actors’ faces was enough to tempt me. Plus it’s Good Friday…
Pre-dating the Open Air Theatre’s revelatory restaging by three years, Laurence Connor’s restaging of ALW’s 1971 rock opera lays its contemporary allusions thickly (Occupy, Guantánamo, reality TV) but right from the start, you can see how superficial it is. A busy prologue full of kinetic energy references the Occupy movement strongly but as soon as the show proper starts, it’s as if it never happens, you could cut it and never know the difference.
Elsewhere, stretching for the modern references shows its strains – making The Temple a hedonistic nightclub has undoubted visual impact but lyrically, it makes no sense. And as we race to the finish, the prison jumpsuits and angel wings make the title song a really bizarre spectacle. Matters aren’t helped by the heavy reliance on the large video screen – a necessity in an arena, but anathema to creativity.
And performance-wise, I really don’t think it is one for the ages. Fresh from winning the TV talent show Superstar, Ben Forster is palpably still feeling his way into his talent, not helped by this version capturing arena-style largesse in uncompromising detail. Subtlety is in short supply – Melanie Chisholm’s Mary Magdelene feels mis-cast, and in art as in life, the less said about Chris Moyles the better. Tim Minchin’s unique brand of anguish as Judas does register though, and Alex Hanson is naturally excellent as Pilate. But overall, I don’t think it is a treatment of the musical that stands up to rewatching unless you’re a huge fan.
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