Theatre Review: Jesus Christ Superstar

Jesus Christ Superstar is a popular Andrew Lloyd Webber musical that charts the final days of Jesus Christ utilising popular rock and pop musical styles.

Presented by Influencers Church
Reviewed 7 April 2017

Jesus Christ Superstar is a popular Andrew Lloyd Webber musical that charts the final days of Jesus Christ utilising popular rock and pop musical styles. This show is controversial with religious groups due to its depiction of Judas as a central hero and the romantic relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. The choice to produce this show in a church is a brave one but Influencers have circumvented this by altering solo lines, lyrics and the context in which certain scenes occur. Although potentially not the original intention of the work, this new treatment of the show offers a fresh and clear perspective on the story, making the changes hard to notice.

Director Andrew Hawkins has transferred the action to modern-day Syria with Jesus and his disciples representing Red Cross aid workers in the combat zone. This concept is brilliantly executed, from the air attacks in the Overture to Jesus being brought before Pontius Pilate in a military compound. Costumes and set pieces adhere strongly to this theme and the entire team should be commended for their commitment to Hawkins’ vision.

In a show on an arena stage, with the audience all the way around, the team has done well in maintaining a solid flow through sets on wheels and dynamic set changes. The enormous rigging in the downstage area is very effective when used as the cross Jesus is hung on, but during the rest of the show it is a distraction that affects sight-lines and causes lighting to be ineffective.

The cast for this production is clearly one of mixed abilities, but for the most part their work is incredibly satisfying. Jesus, Phillipe Quaziz sings and acts well performing best in the strong high notes of Gethsemane. Josh Long absolutely shines as Judas with a stunning voice and an acting performance to match. The role of Mary Magdalene has been separated in this production to lessen the impact of the romantic storyline and Erin McKellar, Keren Batson and Sheena Marshall sing and perform well. As the central Mary, McKellar displays a powerful voice that works well for the role. Andrew Crispe delivers his usual high quality performance as Pontius Pilate but pacing of Pilate’s Dream limited his ability to act within the song.

This show is littered with smaller roles and Wendi Northcott and Steven Donato were definitely standouts. Eguono Ejenobor had a lovely higher register but struggled with the many lower sections of the Caiaphas role. In a production where many of the performers opted out of high notes and altered the melody accordingly, it is odd that Ejenbor didn’t simply sing these songs in a higher octave.

Shawn Whittaker’s band provides a solid sound and atmosphere to the show but the music is not as tight as it should be. This spills over into the ensemble sound which is inconsistent and often difficult to understand with poor diction and uneven cutoffs. Struggling audio also affects the clarity of the vocalists, especially in the larger, more complex numbers. Often the cast seems a little too busy and their individual actions distract from the focus of the scene. On such a large stage, with so many individual moving parts a simpler approach may have been more effective.

This production was birthed from the Church community with peoples of varying experience levels and, at times, this is evident. What Influencers has created here is monumental and thoroughly enjoyable with high production values and the cast’s clear dedication to Hawkins’ vision. Some may be put off by the changes to the show but this production offers a high-quality, fresh take that is unlikely to be seen again.

Reviewed by Nathan Quadrio

Venue: Influencers Church, 57 Darley Road, Paradise
Season: 7th April – 15th April
Duration: 2 hours
Tickets: $10 – $20


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