Characterised by soaring vocals, Jesus Christ Superstar is a bold and moving version of Jesus’ betrayal and crucifixion. With no spoken dialogue (it’s all sung), the show is set to wow audiences anew. That’s just what it did nearly 50 years ago when composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice got together. It debuted on Broadway in 1971, with a West End run the following year.
Zoy Frangos, as the vitriolic Judas Iscariot, makes a huge statement as he kicks off the show, setting the tone for what follows. Alinta Chidzey’s golden voice bedazzles as Mary Magdalene. How supremely talented she is. Rob Mills continues to grow as a musical performer and leading man. He brings the necessary combination of vulnerability, doubt, leadership and acceptance of his fate to his representation of “the king of the Jews”. His second act solo is one of the many highlights.
Other key players among the 28-strong cast are Michael Cormick as Pontius Pilate; and Trevor Ashley, who makes the most of his role as a strutting and pouting Herod. The music is every bit as spectacular as I remember it to be. The Production Company band conducted by Anthony Gabriele does a wonderful job bringing it to life.
The incomparable Kelley Abbey choreographs and Gale Edwards skilfully directs. Edwards has helmed major productions of the show on London’s West End (where it was nominated for an Olivier Award) and on Broadway (where a Tony Award nomination beckoned).
As Edwards told John Hay-McKenzie, a director of The Production Company, the premise of this production is that if Jesus came back today, he would probably be crucified all over again. “Everything he stands for, believed in and taught would be a confrontation to our capitalist system. Jesus would likely be appalled by … our exploitation of, and lack of care for, each other and the planet, and our emphasis on acquisition and greed.” He preaches non-violence, equality and tolerance.
The industrial set is perfectly suited to the material presented. Scaffolding extends to three levels – two of which house the band at stage left – complete with large, lit-up cross, The set designer is Dan Potra. Trent Suidgeest’s lighting design complements the action. He often manages to “cage” performers in streams of light as they take to the stage.
Jesus Christ Superstar is dynamic and memorable – a triumph of showmanship and stagecraft. It is on at the State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne, until 13 August 2017.
Other reviews you might enjoy:
- Hello Dolly! (The Production Co) – theatre review
- Lazarus (The Production Company) – theatre review
- Oklahoma! (The Production Co) – theatre review
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television