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Theatre Review: Jesus Christ Superstar - Edinburgh Playhouse ✭✭✭


Review by Anne Mackie

“What’s the buzz, tell me what’s a-happening” in Bob Tomson and Bill Kenwright’s touring revival of the classic rock opera, Jesus Christ Superstar…The answer? A lot, really.

An incredible 45 years on, Jesus Christ Superstar is still arguably Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s finest theatrical collaboration. With a magnificent musical score that seamlessly focusses on the final days in Jesus’ life, the 2015 UK tour is as timeless as ever, although some would argue this particular revival appears somewhat dated in its production values.

Leading the production and reprising his role of Jesus, Glenn Carter gave a stellar performance, proving every inch the ‘superstar’ he once was (and still is). Carter’s performance was pitch perfect and utterly believable on every level. His interpretation of ‘Gethsemane’ proved an obvious highlight; however it was his commitment and tangible emotion during the ‘Crucifixion’ that set him aside from the other principal cast. It must also be noted that despite the authentic sincerity of this number, the scene felt somewhat protracted and as such, could have feasibly been cut by at least three minutes.

The unfortunate let down was X-Factor’s Rachel Adedeji in the role of Mary Magdalene. Adedeji showed very little passion or emotion throughout the production and supported vocals that were both weak and underwhelming. Her rendition of ‘I Don’t Know How To Love Him’ should have been a show-stopping high point, but instead, appeared feeble and uncommitted.

‘Celebrity’ X-Factor casting seemed a continual theme in Kenwright’s production as 2007 finalist Rhydian Roberts was credited to appear as Pontius Pilate. However, due to the indisposition of Roberts, understudy Johnathon Tweedie performed the role, giving a memorably dramatic, strong and thoroughly understated performance. Of course, this begs but one question: why are today’s Producers so reliant on employing several ‘star casting’ vehicles?

Regrettably, it would appear that illness had also taken its toll on Tim Rogers as Judas Iscariot whose vocal range seemed strained and lacking as he failed to hit some of the big money notes – most notably in the show’s opening number ‘Heaven on their Minds’. An anticlimax for anyone well acquainted with the original score. Roger’s characterisation, however, was much more equipped but this was undoubtedly overshadowed by his over-stretched vocal. An understudy option might have proved a more favorable decision here.

The ensemble cast was small but perfectly formed, executing Carole’s Todd’s simple yet effective choreography in conjunction with an array of strong harmony singing superbly. Credit must also go to Cavin Cornwall and Alistair Lee who provided excellent support as Priests Ciaphas and Annas, while Tom Gilling added a brief comedic touch as the campest King Herod ever seen on stage.

Aesthetically, the production is most pleasing. Designer Paul Farnsworth’s magnificent carved temple set provides a dark and enigmatic playground for the action to unfold, particularly under the giant crown of thorns, which impends at the centre of the proscenium arch - a symbolic reminder of Jesus’s journey from the start. However, it is the atmospheric lighting design by Nick Richings that truly sets the scene, capturing the emotional complexity of the production and propelling it through to that illustrious moment of climax.

This production wasn’t without it’s ‘trials and tribulations’ (as the song so poetically goes) but overall, this touring revival is both impassioned and conventional, deliberately avoiding the modernity that the preceding arena tour opted for. As such, it brings a more traditional looking production (working in favour of the narrative) which, when juxtaposed against Lloyd Webber’s iconic rock opera score provides a powerful evening of rich musicality.

Jesus Christ Superstar is at the Edinburgh Playhouse until 11th April. For tickets and information visit www.atgtickets.com/Edinburgh

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