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Jesus Christ Superstar - Milton Keynes Theatre

Published by: Louise Winter on 15th Jul 2015 | View all blogs by Louise Winter

Reviewed 14th July 2015

  

All images here photo copyright Pamela Raith

It seems hard to imagine in these days of ‘anything goes’ that in the early 1970s this was a highly unusual, indeed controversial, subject for a musical. Lack of initial interest from any of the major management companies at the time meant that the young Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber decided to release a record first which led to a double album in 1971 featuring Ian Gillan of Deep Purple. There wasn’t a great deal of interest in the UK but the success of the album in the States led to a highly successful tour there which in turn led to a national tour of the theatre production and eventually the show opened on Broadway at the end of 1971 - to not very favourable reviews. Incredibly, here we are over 40 years later with this show truly demonstrating that it has stood the test of time with a near sell out national tour. This rock opera can only be described as ground-breaking and the piece that transformed musical theatre forever. 

 

The production for this tour is certainly a solid one with strong performances from the leads Glenn Carter (Jesus), Tim Rogers (Judas) and Rachel Adedeji (Mary Magdalene). Carter is supremely comfortable having played the role over the years in the West End, on Broadway and on film. Admittedly he took a little time to grow on me. I can’t quite put my finger on it but it’s possibly to do with the significance of the role and needing to familiarise oneself with how it is going to be played. Carter gives a marvellous performance, nuanced and subtle in his quieter moments but incredibly powerful and commanding throughout. From his performance of Gesthemane at the end of Act One the whole atmosphere becomes charged and Carter sustains the intensity of this throughout Act Two to the harrowing climax. He is an exceptional performer.

Rogers’ long and varied experience in musical theatre serves him well in the pivotal role of Judas; imposing and impressive with a belter of a voice for the most part. No one dimensional portrayal here but a gripping performance of a man struggling with his actions. Rogers really gets to grips with the torment of Judas' dilemma and then realisation of the consequences. Adedeji is spreading her wings in theatre after getting into the finals of the X-factor in 2009 and taking part in the tour of Thriller Live. She has a beautiful voice and gives a very elegant and understated performance, perhaps a little too understand in a couple of moments where she is almost inaudible; she needs a bit more volume on occasion. Other performances of note are Cavin Cornwall as a very sinister Caiaphas; his exceptionally deep voice resonates across the auditorium, Johnathan Tweedie as Pilate and Alistair Lee as a sneeringly nasty Annas. 

JCSp

I’d like to give a mention to the young people taking part from Arts1 School of Performance in Milton Keynes. On Tuesday night this was the Blue Team with Madison Bishop, Ryley Cleeter, Rhian Damon, Kyla Garner, Lily Harvey, Scarlet Hennigan, Ella Jones-Seal, Emily Loveday, Joseph Maravala, Jasmine Sakyiama, Popi Taylor and Mia Weekes. Aged between 5 and 11 they sung and performed brilliantly and conducted themselves with great poise. They have taken part in this tour in Northampton and Aylesbury so, although the first taste of live performance in national theatre for most of them, no doubt in the future some of these budding stars will be centre stage. 

Paul Farnsworth’s imposing staging is fundamental to the overall strength of this production. The four huge, decorated pillars on either side of the stage and echoed across the backdrop give a claustrophobic feel and along with Nick Richings dramatic lighting design the staging feels suitably intense throughout.  Stairs and a walkway over the stage give the set another dimension and extend it up and across lending it an expansive, almost ‘cinematic’ feel whilst at the same time affording the action some fluidity. The huge metal ‘crown’ suspended centrally is an imposing and consistent image. 

Fabulous well-known music and lyrics: Superstar, Everything’s alright, I don’t know how to love him, Could we start again please and Gesthemane - all iconic pieces and some of Rice and Lloyd Weber’s best - are directed by Bob Broad and played by a small band. When going at full pelt during the louder more dynamic tunes and with a large number of singers present a grand sound is created but this is slightly less satisfactory in the quieter moments. MK Theatre’s effective acoustics aid the depth of sound here. 

A superb production, visually and musically rich, truly harrowing in Act Two and intensely moving.

Jesus Christ Superstar plays MK Theatre until Saturday 18th July.

Call 0844 871 7652 (bkg fee) or visit www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes (bkg fee).

 

 

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