Jesus Christ Superstar was always a bit of a period piece – the 70s rock opera bringing to mind images of Bee Gees-bouffanted messiahs and tassled leotards. In addition, Andrew Lloyd Webber isn’t usually one for messing with the formula – every single production of Cats, Phantom et al has all looked completely identical for years.
“We’ll take a review,” SevenStreets said of my pitch. “Love a bit of cheese.” But no, Ed, no! We’re not talking Technicolour Dreamcoats and rollerskating trains with this one. “Like drama, whipping, funk, death, angels in frilly knickers, me being frickin furious? This show’s for you,” Tweeted its star Tim Minchin, and because I’m so very suggestible where that man is concerned, I went along with a renewed sense of enthusiasm for a show I had already seen and loved a year before.
This production – which returned to the arena nearly exactly twelve months to the day after setting out on what turned out to be an international tour – might just blow most of your perceived musical theatre wisdoms out of the water. The story of the last days of Jesus was brought straight up to date and set among a band of anti-capitalist protesters; with a grungy look, arena rock sound and hi tech big screen, the action could be seen and heard well at all vantage points.
This week’s Liverpool show was, I didn’t realise, the last ever performance of this production for Minchin, Mel C, Chris Moyles et al. And to some extent things did seem slightly more raw than before – the cast looked a lot more knackered than they were a year ago, for sure. Was that why Minchin seemed especially red-eyed during his big dramatic scene, or was he just giving it his all?
Comedian Minchin – beautiful, beautiful Minchin – has been phenomenal in this show. As Judas, he brought a credibility to what could have been dismissed as a cheesy musical theatre money-spinner (of course, they found their Jesus by way of a TV talent show), and showed yet another side to his precocious talent.
First time around, newbie Ben Forster was overshadowed by his more famous co-stars. But on this his final night, his Jesus marked him out as an accomplished singer and actor with a real future on stage; his voice superb, his portrayal of the role confident, and his delivery crystal clear. Mel C found a stage role to suit that distinctive voice and her I Don’t Know How to Love Him and Could We Start Again Please were genuinely moving and sweet.
Hell, even Stewart-Lee-owned toilet book scribe and radio irritant Chris Moyles does alright, in his camptastic solo number as King Herod.
This JCS was all singing, all dancing and may have boasted the flashiest crucifixion scene in Christendom; but director Laurence Connor’s fresh pair of eyes have been a revelation.