Jesus Christ Superstar – review

10511235_831945476818289_7880917169710558654_nThis review also appears in Western Park Gazette

Leicester Amateur Operatic Society presents
Jesus Christ Superstar
Curve Theatre, Leicester

Director/Choreographer Greg Pichery
Musical Director Steve Duguid

In 1971, two upstart twenty-somethings, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, rocked into town, took humankind’s oldest story, set it to music and created what has since become one of the world’s most enduringly popular shows. The musical messiahs had arrived.

Leicester Amateur Operatic Society’s final performance at the Haymarket Theatre in 2003 was this very musical, now at Curve and with access to all of this venue’s hi-tech wizardry. Interesting then that the set itself was pared down to two sets of raked bleachers leading up to a futuristic equilateral triangle of flashing lights, vaguely reminiscent of an 80s poodle-rock stage set. This is a good thing though, as there is little distraction from the masterful score. Leigh Mulpeter’s lighting was imaginative and effective: heavenly shafts pick out the apostles along with great use of the mysterious triangle; the Holy Trinity, a stained glass window? A corporate logo to match the be-suited high priests? A setting sun? Open to many interpretations but the pivot around which all action took place.

Christine Tarry’s costumes are contemporary, with hoodies, slogan T shirts and maxi dresses. And that’s basically it as far as set and props are concerned. Lloyd Webber’s songs and Rice’s clever lyrics are always the stars here, right from the electric guitar’s opening plaintive riff; it’s still a ‘hairs on the back of the neck’ moment, prophesising impending doom.

Jesus Christ Superstar is a challenging musical to pull off but LAOS has on the whole done it justice. The story is beyond well known, documenting the last days of Jesus’ life from Judas’ viewpoint and told in contemporary lyrics with little in the way of religious content. Thomas Urch is an impressive Judas, displaying a powerful voice but also superbly conveying Judas’ confusion and mixed emotions, Damned for All Time being his best moment.

Wil Neale has a tough task with Jesus, not only carrying the expectation of playing God’s only son but comparisons with past incumbents such as Ted Nealy’s acclaimed portrayal in the 1973 Oscar-winning film version. Will does well though, displaying great range from tenor to falsetto. Unfortunately, there appeared to be a few sound issues with Jesus  drowned out during the earlier numbers together with occasional feedback. Still, a great performance.

The whole cast are impressive: Helen-Mary Boyce a confident Mary, Iain Hamilton’s superbly rich bass baritoned Caiaphas, a wonderfully weaselly Tom Mottram as Pilate and Simon Lubkowski’s silky-smooth, white tux’d, Bond-like Herod in the less intense King Herod’s Song.

Although a stripped back production there is no let up in the intensity of the storytelling and is an enjoyable version of a modern classic given some up to date touches and performed by an accomplished local amateur society. Worth seeing? Amen to that.

Jesus Christ Superstar is at Curve 25 – 29 June


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