Jesus Christ Superstar – Review – Bradford Alhambra
By Christine Goode, November 2023
Currently touring the UK, Bradford Alhambra is hosting the latest version of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s classic musical rock opera, Jesus Christ Superstar. Originally a concept album created by Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice in 1970, the show later became a global sensation. Despite its success, the show has been the subject of controversy due to its portrayal of a romantic relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. This production once again breaks boundaries while continuing to captivate audiences.
Director Timothy Sheader breathes fresh life into the show with a talented cast and musicians. Set and costume designer Tom Scutt and choreographer Drew McConie create a stunning feast for the eyes alongside an impressive industrial stage design. The show is reminiscent of a rock concert, complete with a giant, rusty cross on the floor serving as a runway for the performers.
Ian McIntosh stars as Jesus and delivers an exceptional vocal performance throughout the show. His rendition of ‘Gethsemane’ is spellbinding, leaving the audience in awe. Meanwhile, Hannah Richardson portrays Mary Magdalene, bringing a beautiful tone and quality to her singing. Shem Omari James is equally impressive as Judas, and Jad Habchi and Matt Bateman give noteworthy performances as Caiaphas and Annas, respectively.
The ensemble cast adds depth to the production, delivering a contemporary dance style that perfectly complements the show’s look and feel. Their stilted movements, perfectly timed in cannon, represent the growing following of Jesus Christ, culminating in a frenzied finale.
The intentionally bland-coloured costumes feature baggy hoodies and track pants to replace traditional biblical clothing, further contributing to the contemporary vibe of the show. The luxurious costumes worn by the hierarchy are kept to a minimum, with a 20-foot gold train reserved for King Herod, who brings some light-heartedness to the serious second half.
The clever use of handheld microphones throughout the production is noteworthy, particularly during the Pharisees’ number, ‘This Jesus Must Die’ and the final crucifixion scene. The Last Supper scene is also memorable, with the apostles freezing in place to recreate the famous painting. Also, the clever use of glitter as Mary anoints Jesus, and the use of glitter as he receives the thirty-nine lashes all adding to his Rockstar image as depicted by his followers.
The lighting design by Lee Curran is thought-provoking, with a beam of light shining on the girders as they cross, predicting a cross above Jesus’ head while he sings. The searchlights overhead add to the dramatic effect of the crucifixion scene.
With a first half run time of just 45 minutes and the second half a little longer at 50 minutes, this production is outstanding. There is no call for audience participation at the end, which is popular in so many musical theatre productions, it would not be appropriate due to the powerful content and therefore gives an even more dramatic awareness as the cast and musicians receive a well-deserved standing ovation. As the audience leaves the theatre, the silence is broken only by the sound of them singing the praises of Jesus Christ Superstar.
‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ is at Bradford Alhambra until 2 December