An old story rocks on

Jesus Christ Superstar

Malvern Theatres

****

THIS is the show that helped to establish Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber as superstars of the musical theatre world. It presents the audience with an account of the last week in Jesus’ life in Roman-occupied Israel and portrays Jesus as a man, rather than a divine figure.

He was a superstar because he made a huge impact on people in his day and since, but here he is depicted as a man unsure of himself, at times petulant and angry, at times rejecting the poor and diseased who came to him for healing.

It is a rock opera in a modern idiom: the music and the contemporary dress bring the story of the man into a context that a youthful audience of today can more easily access. However the torture and crucifixion of the man closely reflect the experiences of the Jesus of the gospels.

The Malvern Theatres Young Company bring together a handful of key professionals to direct the show which is performed by young singers and actors from the Malvern area. This combination works brilliantly. The mark of Andy Reiss (Director), David Lane (Musical Director) and Katie Leeming (Choreography) on the show and the expertise they impart ensures that the enthusiasm and energy of the young cast are fully developed in a truly professional context.

The excellent musicians and the skills of the Lighting Designer were similarly vital in achieving powerful dramatic scenes: the 39/40 lashings on Jesus’ back during his trial, the hammering of the nails and the erection of the cross brought the show to a musical and dramatic climax that was truly moving and dramatic.

The principal performers all had great stage presence and performed with real aplomb: Grace Harris (Mary) has a wonderful voice to add particular strength to her performance  and the harmonies achieved when singing with Lewis Allan (Peter) were beautiful, backed by a number of the ensemble.

Alex Jones as Pilate acted with real confidence and is also an excellent singer who sang with clarity and strength in the lower reaches! Jacob Kipping was a brilliant Herod: the scene is wonderfully written and, dressed like a mafia boss/rock star with his backing chorus of dancing girls around him, he gave us a very entertaining scene.

James Baker (Judas) had some excellent moments. The anguish and remorse he experiences at the outcome of his betrayal of Jesus was tortured and effective; his suicide left us in suspense as he appeared to hang by his neck for an age before darkness enveloped him!

Will Thompson-Brant as Jesus was a powerful presence at the centre of the action. For the most part his singing was strong and clear, his final moments were particularly dramatic and moving.

The ensemble were very well managed and effective, no more so than when they appeared in hoodies like a pack of hounds to taunt and haunt Jesus around the time of his death.

The show builds to a wonderfully powerful dramatic climax, though the irony of the title is that Jesus is presented to us in this musical as a man whose mission was unclear and possibly unsuccessful. The singers’ refrain, ‘Could we start again please?’ and the reflective solos Jesus delivers on more than one occasion suggest major doubt on the clarity and success of his mission. He even ends up at one point dismissing the crowds of sick, blind and lame with the shout of ‘Heal yourselves!’ The supernatural is implied by Judas’ return after his suicide to taunt Jesus, but there is no suggestion of Jesus returning from the dead.

The show was rapturously received by a very enthusiastic audience. There was a great sense of life, energy and community emanating from the stage and the show deserves great houses through the week! To 23-08-14

Timothy Crow

20-08-14 

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