Lockdown theatre review: Jesus Christ Superstar (2012 Arena Tour)

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.

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Review: I Can’t Sing, Palladium Theatre

“It’s a no, it’s a yes, it’s a no from me”

One of the most profitable television franchises in the UK, a much-loved comedian writing the book, a £6 million budget…there’s clearly considerable heft behind the latest musical to establish itself in the London Palladium. But the marriage of Harry Hill’s bizarre comic sensibility, Steve Brown’s bright if hollow score and the ITV juggernaut that is the X-Factor makes for uneasy bedfellows, Sean Foley’s garish production eschewing any kind of subtlety for the broadest kind of populist swoop.

I Can’t Sing is a show that constantly wants to have its cake and eat it. Faux-Dermot presenter Liam O’Deary gets a laugh by exasperating at one point “I don’t know why you might be charged” when the phone lines have closed, presumably the response “because they continue to make money for the production company” was mixed in previews. The TV show’s heavy reliance on tear-jerking backstories is a running gag yet nothing dispels the myth that that is the way to get noticed on a talent show. Likewise the qualifications of the panel to be judges of a popular music contest are skewered yet they remain feted as a special brand of celebrity. Continue reading “Review: I Can’t Sing, Palladium Theatre”

Review: Jesus Christ Superstar, O2 Arena

“Tell the mob who sing your song that they are fools and they are wrong”

Having gone down the road of television casting once again for one of his shows and quite possibly killing off the genre at the same time, Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s much-touted revival of his 1971 rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar will hopefully have the same effect on staging theatrical productions in cavernous arenas like London’s O2. Director Laurence Connor’s concept has been to relocate the loose retelling of Jesus’ last week to a modern-day context, pulling out strong allusions to the Occupy movement, riots, Guantánamo Bay and reality television. 

Tim Minchin’s Judas is the undoubted highlight of the show, a stirringly confident rock vocal of fierce conviction that near perfectly captures the essence of what Lloyd-Webber is trying to achieve but elsewhere there is much less strength. Ben Forster’s Jesus mauls Gethsemane almost beyond recognition but fares better elsewhere where his falsetto is more aptly deployed and his angst not so overplayed; Melanie Chisholm’s goth take on Mary Magdalene is anaemically thin and utterly forgettable; Chris Moyles’ highly gimmicky Jerry Springer-esque King Herod – he hosts a show called Hark! with Herod, a rare flash of genuine humour – is thankfully brief; Alex Hanson’s Pilate is a quality performance that stands out from a hard-working ensemble, but too often the wide lens of the show means that their efforts pass by unnoticed. Continue reading “Review: Jesus Christ Superstar, O2 Arena”