Jesus Christ Superstar - Musical ☆☆☆3
Showing from - Tuesday, April 8, 2014 through till Saturday, April 12, 2014
Trent College - Long Eaton
Sheridan Halton | Thursday, April 10, 2014
It was both excitement and trepidation that I felt when going to see this production of JCS.
Excitement because it is a show with so much potential in terms of executing some of Lloyd Webber’s finest songs and trepidation at the prospect of a local company being able to source the singers with the ability to do such songs justice. I finished the evening feeling pleasantly surprised by what was, on the whole, an enjoyable evening of theatre.
The show itself, which is loosely based on the apostles’ accounts of the last few weeks of Jesus Christ’s life, has remained a popular musical since the original production in 1971 and has undergone many modern re-workings, most recently the arena tour featuring Ben Forster in the title role with Tim Minchin in the role of Judas. This particular production seemed to derive a notable amount of influence from the recent arena tour, albeit on a much, much smaller scale.
An enjoyable evening of theatre
One notable feature that this production held in common with the arena tour was the decision to costume the show in modern dress. While this is a good choice as it reflects the timeless universality of the issues and themes explored within the show, it would have benefited from a little more direction, particularly in respect of the apostles. The difficulty is that the ensemble appeared frequently alongside the apostles and there was nothing much in the way of costuming or direction which enabled the audience to differentiate the apostles from the ensemble. Even when individual apostles were singing solo lines it was difficult at times to pick out who was singing on the stage from amongst the melee of people. This was not helped by one of the main problems most amateur companies suffer from, too many bodies on a relatively small stage.
engaging and nicely layered
A projection screen was used throughout much of the production. The screen itself was a touch on the small side and was also placed at the side of the stage making it difficult for the audience to attend to this and the action on the stage at the same time. This led to it being rather more of a distraction at times. Unfortunately this was particularly evident during ‘Pilates Dream’ which is a delicate and subtle number that was very nicely performed. It would have been better without the distraction of the screen as Graham Buchanan was more than capable of holding the stage himself with his very engaging and nicely layered performance of Pilate.
Indeed, the performance of Pontius Pilate was one of a number of standout performances in this production. The pairing of Martin Briggs and Keith Bird as the priests Annas and Ciaphas worked very well and a nod should also be given to the apostles Simon played by Zak Charlesworth and Peter played by Phil Brooks for some strong singing, particularly from Phil in the number ‘Could We Start Again Please’.
However, without a doubt, the performance of the night came from Sam Barson in his portrayal of Judas. His performance was worth the ticket price alone showing a real commitment to the character and demonstrating some excellent vocals full of raw emotion and passion: exactly what was needed in this role. He was also key in what, for me, was the real highlight of this production - the betrayal scene at the end of Act 1. It was a totally spine-tingling sequence in which lighting, sound and performance all come together beautifully to create a real magic moment.
obvious vocal strain
Admittedly there was, for me, a sense of disappointment due to the absence of some of the breathtaking extremes of vocal range that are written into this show from some of the deep belly rumbles of Caiaphas to the soaring high notes in the emotion-packed number ‘Gethsemane’. In the case of that song in particular, the high falsetto notes are beautifully positioned by Lloyd Webber to bring a real pained emotionality to the number which is almost heartbreaking to hear when executed well. So I was a little sorry that these notes were not attempted. This may likely have been due to the obvious vocal strain that Mitch Gamble (portraying Jesus) was suffering from on the evening I viewed the show. These are minor quibbles however.
On the whole, the production was well executed. The chorus were in fine voice and were led by a number of very strong individual performances. The lighting was particularly well used in this production to add to the mood and atmosphere while the enthusiasm of all the performers on the stage really shone through.
Overall, an enjoyable evening at the theatre which has left me keen to see what this company can achieve with their next production.
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