Living in the Big Smoke, we city dwellers often forget that our country cousins are just as talented, if not more so, than us. Way down South in Victor Harbor, the South Coast Choral and Arts Society are causing some Causeway controversy with their latest production.
Over 40 years ago, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice stunned the world with one of the first Rock Operas, Jesus Christ Superstar – the musical version of Jesus’ last days leading up to his Crucifixion. Victor Harbor audiences won’t be so stunned by the religious aspect (except for a handful of Adelaide street preachers, apparently), but rather by the abundance of amazing talent that can be squeezed onto their small town hall stage.
Director J J Geelen gives us a 2015 version of the show, with some fantastic innovations: modern day clothing; mobile phones; Mary Magdalene removing her whorish trappings during I Don’t Know How To Love Him; a clever re-working of Judas’ suicide (although it doesn’t tie-in with the mythology of the Judas Tree); and Judas, Pilate, Annas and Simon – traditionally male roles – being portrayed by women.
This latter twist was controversial for this reviewer, til I saw that it works well: especially in the case of Judas and Pilate. Penny Smith is absolutely striking as Judas, from her black clad punk-rocker appearance to her incredibly powerful vocals. She is never petulant, but rather in as much turmoil as Jesus: we know that her decision to turn him in does not come easily.
Playing Pilate as a corporate business woman, former cabaret singer Kim Bell is compelling and hypnotic. Her deep, throaty vocals allow a hint of empathy to peek through the menace and officialdom. This is apparently her first stage role – may there be many more of them.
As Mary, Zoe Tammita has an exceptionally beautiful voice, but is a little sweet and twee for this reviewer’s liking; while Richard Greig is so good and has so much fun in his cameo appearance as Herod, that one would like to see a full scale musical based on the King (Herod, not Elvis – though there’s a little of both in Greig’s performance).
As Jesus, Robert Bell is magnificent – a stunning superstar himself! Using all his acting skills, Bell shows us the man that Jesus was, rather than the legend. This is a powerhouse of a performance from a superb young talent. Bell’s version of Gethsemane, arguably the most powerful solo in the show, is the best that this reviewer has seen (and I’ve seen Michael Crawford perform it!). It is well worth the water-bag trip and the price of admission just to see this young performer alone.
What Geelen and Bell have done with the Crucifixion scene will be indelibly imprinted on one’s mind for ages.
Although not one hundred per cent perfect – there are sound issues and the older chorus are a little over-enthusiastic – this is still a powerful piece of musical theatre that needs to be seen even in this day and age.
Reviewed by Brian Godfrey
Venue: Victor Harbor Town Hall Coral Street, Victor Harbor
Season: 8 – 23 May 2015
Duration: 2 hours with interval
Tickets: $12.00 – $18.00, Family (2 adults & 2 children) $54, Group Bookings (10 or ore) $15 per ticket