Jesus Christ Superstar: a heavenly work soaked in humanity

This article was commissioned by The Upcoming, where it appeared for the first time.
Photos: Johan Persson
The life and death of Jesus get a real superstar makeover in Timothy Sheader’s production, currently transferring indoors after its 2016’s award-winning debut. And this second London round divinely meets those expectations. The show is a triumph of energy and astonishing vocal performances, unforgettable for its excess and intoxicating vibrancy.

Having gained a substantial following who believe he will finally fight the Roman dominion, Jesus (Robert Tripolino) is raising the suspicion and fears of the high priests as he teaches about love and carries out miracles in Jerusalem. Judas (Ricardo Afonso), let down by the Messiah, who doesn’t match up to his leadership ideals, plots to sell his master to the authorities and help re-establish order.

Tim Rice’s stimulating lyrics take centre stage as the singing is exalted over all the other elements. The main actors literally pick up a mic in their one-to-one numbers. The prop emphasises the concert-like frame into which the script is inserted, but it often feels clumsy in its movements. However, the trick is forgiven and it works in a way because all the voices are breathtaking: from the high-pitched Tripolino to the smooth Afonso, from the soulful Sallay Garnett to the robust Matt Cardle. The performers impressively work as a unique body, a well-oiled machine delivering on the pulsating rhythm with enviable stamina.

Trying to distance itself from the famous movie versions, this Jesus Christ Superstar is not simply modern but quite visionary, taking full advantage of the more personal engagement of the theatre setting – the glittery details teetering on the kitsch; the flashy and hazy backdrop supporting the atmosphere; the riveting dancers superbly creating the exhilarating movements that the rock score demands. The band playing live from the top floor of the scaffolding is pure rhapsody: the opening electric guitar is nothing less than the perfect note to start such a thrilling staging as this. The disciples and Jesus himself also take up this musical instrument as a laid back boyband.

Samuel Buttery’s flamboyant act as Herod, the gold-laden accessories of the Pharisees, the sensual Mary Magdalene, the bright colours present on stage – through both the lights and the costumes – are among the decisions that make this a bold production. It adds flesh to the tale of the Gospel, resulting in an accessible and thought-provoking story for all, for this time: a heavenly work captivatingly soaked in humanity.

- Read the article on The Upcoming -

Dates: 4th July - 24th August 2019
Venue: Barbican