“What’s the buzz?” Why, it’s Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar coming to the Millennium Centre in its Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre incarnation. Recent tour productions of this 1970 musical have been arena-bound versions: this is the first time since 2015 it’s in a Cardiff theatre.
Webber and Tim Rice’s first grownup musical – big brother to the more family-friendly Joseph, which debuted around the same time – follows Jesus in the last weeks of his life, his relationship with Judas deteriorating amidst the latter’s crumbling faith. In front of a backdrop of crucifixes set in scaffolding, this modern Jesus is more like a busker elevated to fame. Though we can make out a tree, a glimpse of beauty that may also allude to Judas’ end, the stark industrial set brings to mind shows like Rent and American Idiot, shows that owe a debt to Jesus Christ Superstar; designer Tom Scutt has managed to make the colour brown beautiful.
This production does away with recognisable names (Julian Clary plays Herod in select venues, though slightly disappointingly not this one) and every vocal impresses. Ian McIntosh is forgiven for being a short-haired Jesus by his voice: hearing him sing Gethsemane in this production, for any lover of musicals, is akin to a religious experience. Hannah Richardson as Mary delivers a beautiful I Don’t Know How To Love Him and the lesser known Everything’s Alright, while Jad Habchi as high priest Caiaphas has some bass vocals that will shake your seat. A mention must go to the amazing live band, too.
Although this show is quite heavy going sometimes, there are moments of camp – particularly regarding the priests, and never more so than in Herod’s Song. Here, Timo Tatzber’s Herod bursts onto the stage in a gold costume that pierces the browns and creams, like a glam-rock version of Cabaret’s Emcee (another hat-tip to Scutt); his short appearance gets almost as much applause as Gethsemane.
I don’t know if it’s a testament to how much I enjoyed the show, but I forgot to take notes during its interval. Certainly, it surpassed the expectations of this reviewer, who happened to have watched the 1973 film version on TV during Christmas and worried that this would spoil the live show a month hence. An updated version that maintains some vintage hippy sensibilities, Jesus Christ Superstar is a blistering and visceral rock musical.
Jesus Christ Superstar, Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff Bay, Mon 29 Jan
On until Sat 3 Feb. Tickets: £18-£82. Info: here
words CHRIS WILLIAMS