Music biopics have become all the rage. From Freddie Mercury to Elvis Presley and Amy Winehouse, the lives of iconic figures have been immortalised for a second, or third, or fourth time.
Jesus Christ Superstar is essentially that. But with a God in a more traditional sense, rather than a rock god. Still, no introduction is required. At the sidelines is the love interest (Hannah Richardson), who isn’t given much of a personality or development to decide whether we like them or not. And there’s the mobs of fans and followers. Then of course, the haters - the fearfuls, the threats. It culminates in mania.
It’s a small irony that a 20-something year old composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice knocked a Beatle off their place in the albums charge with a record about Jesus’ final days leading to his crucifixion.
First seen in 2016, this Timothy Sheader-directed revival famously turned Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre in to a rock concert, complete with strobe lighting, handheld microphones, and plenty of haze. This cast, led by Ian McIntosh (Jesus) and Shem Omari James (Judas) have the vocal power to keep the show roaring. Nick Lidster’s sound design is all-consuming, feeling as big and open as a stadium but crystal clear. The band, directed by Michael Riley are a holy beast in themselves flitting between sensual soul, funky Motown and of course the gospel tones of the title number. Moments of forced quiet become a sacred sanctuary from the drama and relentless score crammed in to the less than two hour run time.
A large ensemble cast donning baggy streetwear move as a pack, rigorously performing Drew McOnie’s contemporary, and often impressive, choreography. Though at times it borders on resembling an appearance on a late-night TV talk show to promote a new single. Largely saturating one side of the stage, the lyrics get lost in the demanding movement, and neglect the character development. Luckily, we’re all pretty familiar with the story - and modern retellings of cancel culture and falls from grace. Here we see Jesus brawl with a microphone wire and sound speaker.
There are some fun parts though; Timo Tatzber’s Herod is a jazzy show-stealer, walking the brassy industrial crucifix like a runway, and Jad Habchi’s Caiaphas fronts a Pharisee boyband with some Top of the Pops microphone choreo.
Beverley Chorlton’s hair and make up design is inspired - silver paint drenches Judas’ hands manifesting his guilt, and glitter shines as sacrificial blood.
There’s no doubt that Jesus Christ Superstar is best known for its score - so if you want to hear it sung-through and sung well, this is your show. If you’re after a night of storytelling, perhaps not.