Thursday, February 29

Jesus Christ Superstar – Bradford Alhambra

When Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote a rock opera with a provocative title about the last days of Christ one potential investor described it as ‘the worst idea in history’ so with no-one willing to put it on a stage they stuck it out as a platinum selling double album….and the rest is history.

Britain’s greatest musical theatre duo loosely based Jesus Christ Superstar on the Gospels and for a show no one wanted it ended up setting a record for the longest run in London. I have a simple proposition for what makes a great musical, and that they always need a minimum of two showstoppers – preferably one at the end of each half – but this is packed full of the duo’s best tunes. Everything’s Going to Be Alright, I Don’t Know How To Love Him, Herod’s Song and Gethsemane are all killer tracks.  

This revival that started life at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre is staged like a rock concert where the cast hump the gear onto the dark stage with a crucifix shaped runway like biblical roadies, and the cast pass round an old fashioned mic for their songs, although they are all wearing radio mics. This show came off the back of the chaotic Woodstock and Isle of Wight festivals where the hippie counterculture began to disintegrate, and musicians were becoming rock gods, or in this context superstars.

Lloyd Webber is at his best here delivering a pounding rock score and delicate ballads that range across genre – straight rock, blues, soul, funk and even a bit of vaudeville – all played by a tight band dotted round Tom Scutt’s suitably subdued stage.  Rice has always been our best lyricists offering knowing words that are always working hard to drive a narrative we are all familiar with, or we think we are.

This is a demanding show vocally as the numbers are big musically, and often lyrically complex, requiring top quality vocalists. Deep Purple frontman Ian Gillan was the original Superstar, and Ian McIntosh brings the same raw power effortlessly hitting the high notes without any noticeable loss in power, with a stunning Gethsemane earning him a long round of applause. His brooding rock god persona was perfect for a man beset with doubts as he begins the painful and inevitable road to Calvary.

Shem Omari James sings soulfully, if sometimes indistinctly, as Judas so enraged by Jesus compromising that he sells him out, and the moment he plunges his hands into a chest to get his reward emerging with his hands covered in silver is shocking.  Hannah Ricardson as lovelorn Mary Magdalene really gets under the meaning of I Don’t How To Love Him, and you can see why Christians in the seventies were moved to protest outside the theatre. Newcomer Timo Tatzber is wonderfully camp on an amusing Herod’s Song that offers some brevity in a gruelling second half.

Full marks to a hugely talented ensemble who all sang well and really made the most of Drew McOnie’s seventies influenced and often frenetic choreography, which added energy and pathos.  The choreography as Christ casts out demons, but maybe not his own, was beautifully delivered as was a moving Last Supper before they turned into a mob during a raw crucifixion scene.

Given recent events, a show about faith, uncertainty and the human cost of change is timely, with this punchy version of a classic offering much to think about for believers and non-believers alike.

Jesus Christ Superstar is at Bradford Alhambra until Saturday 2nd December.  To book 01274 432000 or www.bradfordtheatres.com

Reviewer: Paul Clarke

Reviewed: 27th November 2023

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.
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