Reviewed by Michaela Clement-Hayes
The O2 – 13th October 2013
The musical that thrust Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Tim Rice into the spotlight has a long and powerful history. Looking at the story of Jesus of Nazareth from a different angle, the show was first performed in Sweden in 1972. More than 40 years later, Jesus Christ Superstar is still continuing to wow audiences, this time with a superstar cast.
One of the best things about theatre is its intimacy, so with a venue like the O2 I was a bit sceptical. Even though I was sitting quite near the front, I struggled to see the facial expressions of those onstage. For the people at the back, or at the top, I would imagine it was impossible.
However, there is no denying that the show is, well a show! The bright lights, onstage band, special effects and a huge HD screen ensure that even if people can’t see everything, they can definitely experience it.
This time around Jesus Christ Superstar takes place in the very modern day, the followers of Jesus (Ben Forster) are a motley crew with skinny jeans, dreadlocks and tattoos, sleeping rough in pop-up tents.
Aside from the story’s origins, religion is notably absent from the production. Jesus is just a man with ideals and followers who rally to his side… until he is betrayed by a friend, arrested and sentenced to death.
Tim Minchin as Judas Iscariot (looking rather like Captain Jack Sparrow) is fabulous, showing he can act almost as well as he sings. Although Forster is truly deserving of the role of Jesus (and very attractive too), it is Minchin that steals the show as a marvellous ‘villain’ and his eventual suicide draws gasps from the audience.
Mel C is well cast as Mary Magdalen, her voice ever distinctive, her singing strong, especially Everything’s Alright. Chris Moyles as King Herod is suitably camp and amusing (with an uncanny body double). The show’s ensemble is one of the best I’ve ever seen, almost flawless and full of energy.
Although the lyrics in Act I are slightly incomprehensible at times and the voices are lost behind the (incredible) musicians, this is resolved in Act II.
Staging is simple but seamless, as scenes change almost without the audience noticing. Scenery is projected onto the back screen and cameras zoom in on key moments so the actors have nowhere to hide as they are completely exposed.
With a strong team behind it (and even an appearance from Rice and Lloyd-Webber), this production is nothing short of fantastic.
As Jesus is lifted onto the cross in the closing scene, there is silence throughout the arena. Seconds pass and then the arena is flooded with a light so blinding that the audience are forced to shield their eyes. It is an incredibly powerful moment that stays with the audience long after the performance has ended.
I’m still not convinced that the venue is ideal, as although the show is big, the O2 is bigger. However, as far as rock musicals go, the likes of Rock of Ages and We Will Rock You are completely inferior – Jesus Christ Superstar is the only one that matters.