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Jesus Christ Superstar - Norwich Theatre Royal (08.04.2024)

Updated: Apr 9

No doubt a synopsis is surplus to requirement for a show as well-renowned as Jesus Christ Superstar, but in my lifetime, I've somehow avoided it, so just in case: the Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice musical tells the story of the events during the final days of Jesus’ life and his betrayal by Judas that led to his crucifixion.

Although I haven't seen any previous productions, it appears Director Timothy Sheader has made a conscious effort to offer a fresh take on the 52 year-old show, as it feels modern and vibrant. Perhaps taking inspiration from SIX, this updated version of the production is presented as a gig/concert with the musicians appearing on-stage, and the actors using a mix of microphones in stands and handheld mics. Although it is worth mentioning that the songs from the musical were released in album format in the 70s before the production was ever staged, so perhaps this version is simply realising what may have been the original vision.

The set consisted of wooden scaffolding with crosses, naturally, featuring prominently, from the large metal crucifix dominating the rear of the stage, to one on the floor almost creating a catwalk of sorts. There were some really imaginative use of props, my favourite being the microphones stands made to look like staffs used by the Pharisees. The costume design was a kind of toned-down modern style, hinting at the traditional robes of the Israelites.

Ian McIntosh was brilliant in the title role, showing off superb rockstar vocals as he led us through an emotional rollercoaster before the acceptance of his inevitable death. No less brilliant was Shem Omari James as the villain of the piece, Judas, whose equally strong vocals had me on the edge of my seat at times, and then sent shivers down my spine with his breathy falsetto in Superstar. Hannah Richardson had much less to work with as Mary Magdalene, being confined only to heartfelt ballads, but she performed them beautifully.

My favourites however were the Pharisees, who worked so well together, often moving as a well-choreographed unit. The characters of Caiaphas and Annas stood out in particular with Jad Habchi showing off some impressive bassy tones and Matt Bateman delivering his lines in a particularly sassy manner.

Although the leads were undoubtedly brilliant, they were supported by an excellent ensemble who remained on stage throughout most of the show, filling out the numbers with fabulous choreographed dance routines and strong backing vocals.

A few issues with diction meant it wasn't always easy to understand some of the lyrics, but I couldn't tell if that was because I was unfamiliar with the songs or if they just weren't clear enough.

Despite much of the show focusing on quite dark, heavy subject matter, there was some light relief in the second half when a rather camp Herod (Timo Tatzber) appeared in an enormous gold cape and crown and dazzled us all with a glitzy, jazzy song and dance routine, as he mocked and goaded the "King of the Jews".

The final scene of Jesus' crucifixion is absolutely captivating, with the ensemble dressed all in white, providing a huge contrast to the blood-stained body of Christ. And all of it adds up to a show that you simply must see if you get the chance. Jesus Christ Superstar continues at Norwich Theatre until 13 April.


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