REVIEW: Jesus Christ Superstar at Palace Theatre

One of the biggest West End and Broadway hits of the 70s...
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One of the biggest West End and Broadway hits of the 1970’s is back in Manchester for one week only.

Jesus Christ Superstar, one of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s earliest and most successful efforts, tells the story of the last days of Jesus Christ, superbly played by Glenn Carter in this production by Bill Kenwright and Bob Tomson, and his betrayal by his trusted disciple, Judas Iscariot.

‘…the biggest West End and Broadway
hits of the 1970’s…’

The other story revolves around his relationship with Mary Magdalene, which finds Mary confessing her fear at being unconditionally in love with him in a beautiful and haunting rendition of `I Don’t Know How to Love Him’.

The story moves swiftly through Jesus’s last few days. Tim Rogers as Judas is a powerhouse of rage and a fitting contrast to Carter’s Jesus. His portrayal of the consequences of his betrayal of Jesus and his death are very powerful indeed. His suicide is genuinely shocking, and his modern spin on the classic song, ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ is a showstopper.

Rachel Adedeji is a strangely laid-back Mary Magdalene, although she did become much livelier in Act Two as her voice warmed up. Understudy Jonathan Tweedie was excellent as the dithering and blundering Pontius Pilate. The actors who portrayed the High Priests were outstanding. Cavin Cornwall, tall, menacing, and glowering, cuts an implacably Machiavellian figure as Caiphas. He has a great voice, thunderously deep. Alistair Lee matches him wonderfully as the calculating Annas, his bright, ebullient vocal surges, all very high and thrilling, a constant pleasure. ‘This Jesus Must Die’ was exceptional.

The surreal, bemusing and amusing ‘Herod’s Song’ seems rather incongruous in a show with such a sombre message with Tom Gillard superbly camped up as King Herod in a role perfectly suited to Christopher Biggins. The set’s hanging curtains and scantily clad women suggest this is the sort of place where tired executives go to relax with pantomime baddie King Herod in red crushed velvet demanding the audience vote whether this Jesus is a fraud or a lord, like Simon Cowell wondering whether to press the red button on X Factor.

Whilst the modern setting and design may not appeal to those who prefer their apostles in sandals and robes, this is a very good-looking production. Some of the scenery is quite simply stunning. The stage is dominated by a huge, moveable crown of thorns, suspended from the ceiling and the set is imposing, with enormous pillars covered in detailed sculptures, conveying the grandeur and power of the Roman Empire.

The choreography by Carole Todd successfully enlivens the big numbers but the production occasionally substitutes decibels for drama. The stage directions for the crowd scenes appear to be, ‘Jesus is coming, better look lively.’

The finale, portraying Jesus’s crucifixion and death, had a savage beauty which was breathtaking and dramatic.

Playing at The Palace Theatre for one week only till April 18th

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