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Live Review: Jesus Christ Superstar

Tuesday 11 June 2013

Live Review: Jesus Christ Superstar

                                                                                                                         Photo credit: Ken Leanfore

Friday June 7
Sydney Entertainment Centre, NSW

Whenever the topic of musical theatre is raised it seems every person over the age of forty, give-or-take a few years, wants to tell you about how they saw Johnny Farnham play Jesus and Jon Stevens as Judas in the ‘92 production of Jesus Christ Superstar and if it’s not the ‘90s version, it’s the original ‘72 production. There aren’t too many rock operas that have struck a chord with Aussies quite like Superstar, and the latest incarnation looks set to continue the legacy.

Directed by Laurence Connor, the English theatre director behind the 25th anniversary productions of Les Misérables and Phantom of the Opera, Jesus Christ Superstar Arena Spectacular thrusts the story on Jesus into the 21st century. The steps of the temple are replaced with the steps of corporate HQs and instead of palms, the disciples in the ensemble wave iPads in Christ’s face. Even without the Twitter chatter and #followthetwelve flashing on the big screen at the back of the stage, it’s clear the Occupy Movement has had a big influence on Connor’s direction and the clever link between Rome and the corporations is an easy one to swallow.

Proving she is by far the most talented of the Spice Girls, Mel C is sensational as Mary Magdalene, despite being almost unrecognisable under a mop of dreadlocks. The former Sporty Spice brings welcome pop sensibility to crowd favourite ‘I Don’t Know How to Love Him’ and ‘Could We Start Again Please?’

Funny-man Tim Minchin surprisingly seems right at home sulking around the stage as the brooding Judas; he puts in a spinechilling performance in his penultimate act screaming, “I have been splattered with innocent blood / I should be dragged through the slime and the mud” before a tearful reprise of ‘I Don’t Know How to Love Him.’ Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice did put the spotlight on Judas through their music and lyrics in Superstar but Minchin grabs that spotlight and doesn’t let go! He is utterly captivating in each of his scenes.

Similar props should go to Andrew O’Keefe for his utterly hilarious portrayal of King Herod. Using every ounce of his game show host charm, O’Keefe struts about the stage in a glitzy red velvet suit, cracking jokes about Eddie Obeid, eying off cameras and encouraging viewers to cast their vote to determine Jesus’ fate – “Text ‘Fraud’ or ‘Lord!” – if only every episode of Deal or No Deal was as good as this scene!

As for JC himself, Ben Forster was handpicked for this role as the winner of ITV’s talent show Superstar. There is no denying that Forster is a talented singer and actor – calling out to the Lord in ‘Gethsemane’ is quite moving, but the guy seems to get lost behind the mass of charisma that is Minchin. Forster’s voice is also a bit shaky on the higher notes, but hey, with the characterisation of Jesus as “just a man”, it’s easy to forgive.

This modernised story of the Passion of Christ has been adored by theatregoers across the globe from more than forty years and it seems as long as societies are plagued by greed, excess and misuse of power, stories of saviours will continue to resonate with audiences. Everyone should see this production!

Jesus Christ Superstar Arena Spectacular will play to sold-out audiences at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre this Tuesday and Wednesday (June 11 and 12) before moving onto a five-show stint at Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne.

There are still tickets available for both the Sunday evening and matinee session in Melbourne and for Brisbanites who are desperate to see the show, a third performance has been added on Tuesday, June 18.

:: See here for ticket information

- Amelia Parrott

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