Brave and Intense: Jesus Christ Superstar
Add Herod’s taunting song (decorated with glitz and nipple tassels) and the demoralisation is complete
This is a show bursting with very high and intense vocals. The problem with this is some audience members might find themselves worried that a performer is going to crack at any moment, putting them on edge; although this is possibly apt in such a brutal and harrowing production, and whilst there are too many big falsetto bits in it for me I am not dismissive of the fact these could actually please people.
There are some great vocal performances in Jesus Christ Superstar. As Judas, Tim Rogers is impressive in his opening number; leaving Glenn Carter (Jesus) is a difficult position having to match him. Carter does display ambitious vocals but does not launch into killer singing straight away, his pipes don’t scale the walls until a bit later; perhaps a degree of patience is required.
The voices of Neil Moors (Caiaphas) and Alistair Lee (Annas) should not remain unmentioned. Moors’ hauntingly low sound is contrasted with Lee’s higher and more hysterical belts symbolising the differences between the characters. At the same time their voices complement each other, portraying their unity in a mission to kill Jesus.
As we all know the tale of Christ, and we know that he is coming back from the dead, the company cannot break our hearts on the basis of the character being gone forever. So they have to do this in other ways.
Bob Tomson and Bill Kenwright have directed a show that portrays the painfulness of Jesus’ torture and crucifixion – seeming to provoke tears from two ladies sat in front of me
The lashing of Jesus is well done, the sound of the whip pierces through you and the production displays the bleeding marks such an attack leaves. The effect is tarnished a tad by Carter not clearly reacting to the first couple of strikes, making it seems as though his character is late to cotton on to the fact he’s being savagely beaten. Cast members take their time nailing the title character to the cross subjecting us to brutality for a lengthy amount of time. Glenn Carter is then hoisted up before us making for one hell of a visual (aided by the show’s lighting). Skilful acting is required in order to die in an obviously painful way without crossing over into the inappropriate Wink Murder! type of passing.
Something I had never appreciated before is the humiliation Christ is put through – this production made me do so. Much is made of the crown of thorns being forced onto the head of Jesus and the soldiers’ laughter rattles around the theatre. Add Herod’s taunting song (decorated with glitz and nipple tassels) and the demoralisation is complete.
An ambitious show, then, that boasts a wonderfully grand and mysterious set and communicates the suffering of Christ in challenging circumstances – it cannot be easy to do this live on stage without the resources filmmakers can hide behind. I left enthused by the bravery of this production but at the same time I couldn’t place my finger on what it was that didn’t warm me to the character of Jesus. “It’s because he isn’t flawed” my brother told me when I got home. It’s true. Every great character of television, film or musical has vices (Del Boy, Vito Corleone, Javert) but Jesus doesn’t seem to fit this category. This could well be a case of Carter being up against it before he even appears on the stage. And I do realise it could be too much for me to ask Carter to turn his Jesus into Del Boy as easily as his character turns water into wine...
Jesus Christ Superstar is at New Theatre Oxford until 3 October
Images - Pamela Raith Photography