One of the many, many things I love about living in London- yes, I know we all complain about the city from time to time/pretty much daily, but it’s pretty awesome overall – is the sheer range of things available to do and see. Whatever your passion is, from food to wine to modern art to trapeze, there will be plenty of it here in the city. As I mentioned in my post last week, one of the things I love the most is musical theatre, and London never fails to delight with the range of shows and productions available to enjoy. If I had an unlimited budget and a free schedule each evening, I’d be in theatres pretty much non-stop, enjoying the many ups, downs, and beautiful moments which a musical production can bring.
In my post last week I was getting very excited about go to the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre to see Jesus Christ Superstar. This has long been a favourite musical of mine, and when I saw that it was to be produced at this jewel of a theatre nestled in the heart of one of my favourite London parks…I snapped up tickets immediately. JCS is both a great show and a tricky one to stage well, so as the date approached I was filled with excitement and not a little nervousness. The songs in this show are like old friends, and I was hoping that the production would do them justice.
It turns out that my nerves were for naught. This production of Jesus Christ Superstar is imaginative, vibrant, and moving. In the outdoor setting the show feels intimate and involving – without the barriers another theatre would provide, the cast feel accessible and the connection you feel as an audience member is rawer, realer. As we entered the second act the summer night began to draw in, and the fading of the light as the story reached it’s peak added an extra note of sombreness and pathos to proceedings.
The production team have created a beautiful version of the show. From the laidback costuming with a nod to the R n B style of the nighties and noughties (at points the ladies of the ensemble looked like All Saints or Destiny’s Child, cool and edgy, a pleasant change from the usual costume decisions made in this production), to the industrial set softened by the greens and browns of the surrounding trees, it all felt organic, innovative. Timothy Sheader’s direction and his use of space and minimal reliance on props or special effects leaves the stage clear for some real emotion and resonance. Tom Deering’s musical direction is crisp and concise and the band were tremendous – on stage at all times and at times being a real focus. Amongst all this greatness, I also adored Drew McOnie’s choreography – modern, interesting, with nothing I’ve seen before in JCS. The rounds, where moves spread through the pack, were excellently executed and really gave a sense of the fervour and contagion amongst the mob.
There were plenty of good performances from the capable cast, but four great ones which have really stuck with me. Declan Bennett as Jesus interprets to role in a fresh, introverted way – as the Last Supper unfolds there’s a real sense of the sorrow and conflict within. His Gethsemane may lack the showstopper high notes of some former Jesuses (Jesi?), but it’s moving in its desperation and its sheer humanity.
As Pilate David Thaxton is an utter scene stealer – all Brandon Flowers styling and emo turmoil, it’s a big, brave take on the role. Pilate feels like an intelligent, flawed, worried man, a chess player who can see the moves unfolding long before they are played. I loved Thaxton’s interpretation and have been thinking about it frequently in the week since I saw the show. On the other side of proceedings is a character entirely convinced of his rightness and of what he needs to make happen, the Pharisee Caiaphas. Here I enjoyed Cavin Cornwall’s combination of cunning, intelligence, and those rumbling basso profondo notes.
The absolute showstopper though, was Tyrone Huntley’s Judas. His performance was searing, dark and vocally amazing. Every time he sang the audience was rapt. Whether pacing the stage like a panther, calling out Jesus for perceived hypocrisies, or reflecting on his role within a bigger, more eternal plan, I could not take my eyes off him. In a great cast and company he commanded the stage whenever he was on it.
While not perfect (what show ever is?), this is gritty, wonderful, soaring theatre. If you can get a ticket I hope you enjoy it as much as I did, along with the rest of the audience. Rarely has a standing ovation felt as natural as it did after last Saturday’s performance.
Jesus Christ Superstar will play at the Open Air Theatre until the 27 August.