Monday, 17 August 2015

JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR 30th June 2015 (Nottingham UK)

My first recollection of Jesus Christ Superstar, was having the musical played using one of those old fashioned reel to reel tape decks, this was during a religious education class at my school. At twelve or thirteen I was to be frank, too young to appreciate the experience and even though nominally atheist, I still thought it somewhat disrespectful.

Although originally produced as an album and later a stage musical, its success at first being based upon a hit single; to fully appreciate this musical it has to be approached as a complete work. Preferably seen as a stage show but the audience certainly, requires some degree of maturity to fully comprehend the production.

Today almost forty years later, I am a Pagan who regards Jesus Christ Superstar as one my favourite musicals and the soundtrack is played constantly. This show stimulates not simply my love of theatre but equally, my regard for the genius of Rice and Webber.

I was most fortunate to see the 2015 tour as due to a recent back injury, I came quite close to cancelling. However, I summoned up my strength and dragging a not unwilling niece with me, I saw the performance in Nottingham. My, what a performance it was.

This particular stage version of the musical brought back Glenn Carter, who has played the role of Jesus on stage in London, New York and in the 2000 film version. He is hardly a novice and it showed. In the 2000 film I felt he was often overshadowed by the brilliant performance of Jerome Pradon as Judas but on stage in a live performance, there are no such worries. Carter has stage presence and simply dominated each and every scene, as the world literally revolved around him.

From expressions of tenderness, self-doubt and during the scene with the sick, a man overwhelmed by the needs of humanity, Carter plays a human Jesus. This is a believable Jesus, a Jesus deserving of sympathy and understanding, lost ultimately in circumstances spiralling out of control. Surely this man must be the best Jesus of all time?

Carter is as one would expect in a production of such quality, ably supported by a more than competent cast. Mary Magdalene is performed by Rachel Adedeji, whose entrance is literally that of a seductive scarlet woman. Who when changing from her self-assured walk to kneel before Jesus and receive a blessing, provides us with a touching scene of redemption without a single spoken word between them.

The double act of Caiaphas and Annas is provided by Cavin Cornwall and Alistair Lee. Cornwall is no stranger to Jesus Christ Superstar having played Peter in the 2000 film version opposite Carter. Both performed ably and memorably, giving their own important interpretations to these vital roles.

The role of Pilate performed by Johnathan Tweedie was that of a traditional Roman administrator. Yet he is also a man caught between justice and a mob hungry for blood; capturing both despair and confusion, he does what is necessary but not perhaps just.

The role of Judas and a key role in itself, is given the usual sympathetic performance by Tim Rodgers. A complex and often misunderstood character that raises the same unanswerable questions with each performance. What were his motives? What did he hope to achieve and did Jesus know?

Of special mention, simply for the unique and imaginative interpretation of the role, is Tom Gilling as King Herod. Naked to the waist, with nipple tassels and a Persian wig, his performance of a Princely and decadent playboy, captured a man that was King only in name and proved a worthy successor to the mantel of Rik Mayall.

The set appeared basic in appearance yet was far from being so. As lights changed details could be seen. A dark wall would show Roman decoration, the temple is suggested by brass hangings being lowered from the ceiling. Huge doors at the back of the stage represented both the Temple and the Roman Palace of Pilate. The sets were perhaps minimalistic but equally imaginative. Our only worry was the lepers with ragged garments, who climbing the railings and negotiating the stairs, looked in danger of genuine injury.

This tour of Jesus Christ Superstar is outstanding in both cast and interpretation, walking a fine balance between the secular and the spiritual. Jesus is both man and perhaps, something more. This is captured at the end post crucifixion, when the huge doors swing open and Carter returns to the stage, resurrected in a blaze of light.

One is left finally trying to reconcile the confused history of the musical drama, the religious criticism and the critical acclaim. It is a wonder in my opinion, that on seeing this musical, more are not converted to Christianity.

Jesus Christ Superstar succeeds where many performances featuring Jesus Christ fail and they fail because in focusing almost exclusively on the otherworldly nature of the Christ, they lose the man. To understand the figure of Jesus, one must attempt to understand the two natures of Christ.

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