Review: Jesus Christ Superstar, Grand Opera House

Alone, with the apostles. Glenn Carter as Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar. Photographs: Pamela Raith Photography
13 Oct 2015 @ 5.51 pm
| Entertainment

Jesus Christ Superstar

Grand Opera House, York

Till Sat Oct 17 @ 7.30pm; 2.30pm matinees Weds & Sat

£21-£48.90

Grand Opera House website

A question loomed in my mind before watching Jesus Christ Superstar: would it have dated?

This might seem an odd question, given that the story it tells shows no signs of losing its popularity after an unbroken 2,000-year run.

But Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s take on the New Testament could only have emerged in the early Seventies.

This was the show written as optimism and flower power were replaced by Vietnam and blackouts. No wonder it focuses on Christ’s final seven days, a time when the mass rapture which once greeted the preacher man turns to anger, disillusionment and destruction.

I loved Jesus Christ Superstar back then. But, like velvet pants, flying pickets and, to an extent, similar shows like Godspell, would it seem like a relic of another era?

The answer is quite the opposite. Given this production’s overtly political take, with the power of a ruling elite challenged by a mass uprising of the people, it seems particularly pertinent so soon after the rise of the Corbynites.

As always, Judas is the conflicted heart of the show. Here he is played with unflagging fury by Tim Rogers – his dismay that Jesus has hijacked a principled movement to bask in the glory of a cult hero leading to the most infamous betrayal in history.

Rachel Adadeji as Mary Magdalene
Rachel Adadeji as Mary Magdalene
At the conflicted heart of the action
At the conflicted heart of the action: Judas, played by Tim Rogers

Glenn Carter returns as Jesus, nearly 20 years since he first played the role in Superstar, while a newer face is former X Factor finalist Rachel Adadeji.

Sounding a little hesitant at first, Rachel grew in confidence as the evening progressed and undoubtedly moved the audience with the classic I Don’t Know How To Love Him.

All the Pharisees were magnificently dark, both in their appearance – Gothic black – and their plotting. Caiaphas (Neil Moors) was particularly sonorous and snarling.

Perhaps the best voice of all belonged to Kristofer Harding as Simon.

‘Turn my water into wine’ – Herod (Tom Gilling) in mocking mode
‘Turn my water into wine’ – Herod (Tom Gilling) in mocking mode

But the real star here is the ensemble. From What’s The Buzz? to Hosanna, and the epic Superstar itself, these are remarkably stirring pieces of music.

And they were at their most thrilling when the entire company was contributing, a harmonic and dynamic force to be reckoned with – and backed by a superb band.

Act Two takes us to the unremittingly grim finale, via King Herod’s jolly cameo, played with scornful glee by a nipple be-tasselled Tom Gilling.

Strikingly staged, the crucifixion scene makes for an appalling and transfixing spectacle. A small but crucial deviation from the original ending follows, and not to the show’s benefit.

The appalling spectacle of the finale
The appalling spectacle of the finale

The vocal performances of Judas and Jesus never quite hit the hoped-for heights. But that didn’t stop many in the audience giving the show a standing ovation.

And you leave the Grand Opera House with those amazing theatrical tunes resonating. But also realising that we haven’t changed in 2,000 years, let alone since 1970.

If these events happened today, the adulatory crowds would still turn into the baying mob. Only they would begin by posing with Jesus for a divine selfie – and end by taking him down in the mother of all Twitter trollings.

As this production shows, Jesus Christ Superstar remains as pertinent and contentious as ever.