Would Jesus have condoned such artistic thievery? Jesus Christ Superstar (2018 Concert) is full of great performances but borrows heavily from the Open Air’s production
“Would I be more noticed than I ever was before?”
The most striking thing about the US Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert from 2018, that will particularly stand out to those who saw the Regents Park Open Air Theatre production in any of its iterations, is that it is boldly credited to David Leveaux as director and Jason Ardizzone-West as production designer. There’s so much synchronicity between the two productions here that it is hard to believe that Timothy Sheader and Tom Scutt respectively didn’t deserve at least thanks if not full co-credits because original this is not.
A live television musical special – as the Americans did much more of than the Brits – this version of Jesus Christ Superstar is undoubtedly heavily influenced by the freshness of that iconic reimagining of the show. Released from its 70s origins but also any need to be particularly politically relevant (which tripped up the UK arena tour) it is a powerful piece of contemporary theatre which speaks to the cult of celebrity as pointedly as it ever has done.
Here, Leveaux goes for one piece of stunt casting, putting singer John Legend into the titular role which he hasn’t necessarily got the acting chops for. His soulful interpretation of the music is compelling but even in a sung-through piece, that’s only half the battle. Around him though, seasoned professionals such as Brandon Victor Lewis (Judas), Ben Daniels (Pilate) and the great Norm Lewis (Caiaphas) were far superior exponents of the musical theatre form. Sara Bareilles also shows musicians can rise to the challenge, with a beautifully sonorous Mary Magdelene. Perfectly watchable, but credit where it’s due please.