THEATRE REVIEW: Jesus Christ Superstar, 02.11.2010, The Alexandra Theatre (Birmingham)

Played and produced by West Bromwich Operatic Society (an amateur society), Jesus Christ Superstar was an … unusual night.

Originally an Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice rock opera, it tells the political and interpersonal struggles between Judas Iscariot and Jesus Christ. The opera is based on St. John’s Gospel account of the last week of Jesus’ life, beginning with the preparation for the arrival of Jesus and his disciples in Jerusalem, and ending with the Crucifixion. The Resurrection is not included.

The opera itself allows for a free interpretation to be made of the personalities of Jesus and Judas. This means it is left open to a lot of interpretation and someone’s opinion of Jesus and Judas. I’m not sure if I am in agreement with the depiction of Jesus especially in this performance. It felt like Jesus was not well researched and was shown to be a nervous, angry and stressed person and not the calm, loving and Holy ways of the Son of God. Jesus’ solo part was much sung and in fact excellent.

The half full theatre was an indication that maybe this wasn’t the best value for money at £19.50.

There were many things that I didn’t like about this production, firstly the scary Halloween-esque make up of the Priests, and they resembled characters from Flash Gordon rather than Priests who held high political positions in Israel. The timing was generally quite bad with people singing the same line at audibly different times and some people dancing to the right and others to the left when they should have all being going to the right. The depiction of Jesus Christ was quite mixed, in parts the role was strong and showed a well-rounded voice with good stage presence then in parts it was ear splittingly high-pitched, angry and nervous.

Mary Magdalene was exceptional! Performances that was real, emotional and made me want to be on the stage with her. As was the role of St. Peter, again a real performance and quite under rated. Pilate’s voice was also very well matched to the role.

There was a good mix of ages in the cast and the chorus was excellent. There were good scenes where the reverence of the Last Supper was depicted well but then descended into a strange fight scene. The Crucifixion was also shown well but the disco dancing that preceded it was not the best. Just because something is a musical does not mean it shouldn’t be reverent and has to remain true to the Bible. The moment this became most obvious was during Herod’s song which was truly awful and obscene. I felt the aerobic move dancing and dominatrix style dancers where horrendous, at one point I thought I would have to credit a dancers breasts as they almost made an appearance, very bad costume choices and overly sexual dancing, there really was no need for “open leg” dancing, bottom and breast groping or leather/PVC.  The highlight after that shocking appalling scene was Mary Magdalene bringing back the reverence of the whole production which gave me shivers.

A well depicted scene was the lashing’s Jesus endured were excellent and well thought out, as was the broken chorus during the Crucifixion. What was odd however was how throughout the whole disco dancing and jokey performance there times of reverence, one of these, oddly, was when the cast were taking a bow. I can understand that immediately after the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ it was a solemn moment but considered how there was so much jolly dancing everywhere else I’m not sure why they carried that solemn moment to after the show? Slightly confusing to me.

All in all, a mixed performance, but not one for me. Jesus Christ died for our sins and to me this isn’t a party moment as parts of the production would assume.

Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: Eleni Kypridemos

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5 Comments

  1. In the 25 years of peforming on stage myself and also watching others i have rarely seen a better perfornance either on the professional or ‘amateur’ (NOT PAID) stage.

    My wife and I feel truly blessed to have witnessed this performance, as where everyone around us.

    I have not seen WBOS before but would recommend them to anyone even a critic.

    • I couldn’t agree more David. As JCS is one of my favourite shows I’ve seen a fair few productions, and I have to disagree with Eleni in that WBOS’ depiction gave a much more rounded portrayal of Jesus’ character (as seen from the point of view of Judas) than is the case in most productions, where he is usually either just angry or detached.

      I also felt that the dancing was entirely in keeping with the songs, the way that JCS is written generally, and definitely in tune with what fans of the show expect (including for some elements to be a bit of a ‘surprise’).

      Well done WBOS on such a professional production. I’ll certainly be buying a ticket for Oliver.

  2. Firstly I’d have to say it was excellent value for money! I was hard hit in the recession and I love the theatre, and I find amateur production the best way to satisfy my needs. Not that amateur necessarily means poor performance, it just means they aren’t being paid. This company exceeded my expectations by far, and I’ve seen several others around the midlands.

    Secondly, I find your comments about the bible and research totally unfair. I have seen this show several times, in London and on tour, and it was true to the way ALWebber had written the show. To blame this company for not getting the story right is an insult to them, when it is clearly YOU, who has not done their research.

    Webber and Rice wrote this show to tell a story and entertain, WBOS did that extremely well in their honour. They portrayed the characters as scripted, and there was NO week links.

    WBOS have raised the bar for musical theatre in the Midlands.

    • Well said!!


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