Jesus Christ Superstar – Review – Leeds Grand
Jesus Christ Superstar – Review
Leeds Grand, July 2015
by Sandra Callard
Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar is on a national tour, and has now opened at the Grand Theatre in Leeds. The opening night was a sell out, with an audience ranging from young chidren to the very old. Since its conception in 1971, the show has been consistently at the forefront of musical theatre, and this new production is directed by Bill Kenwright and Bob Tomson.
The show features Glenn Carter as a gentle yet complex Jesus, and his Nemesis, Judas Iscariot, is played by Tim Rogers. Both have played the roles many times, with Carter’s first performance as Jesus being over 20-years ago, and the experience of both men is very obvious in these difficult and controversial roles.
“Sense of dread”
Carter’s portrayal of Jesus is of a quiet and likable man set on an irreversible course, which he both fears and accepts. As a man who heals the sick and can stop a Roman soldier’s raised sword with a glance, he is not quite charismatic and compelling enough, although he brings a very human and magnificent anger to the fore when he clears the temple of the traders. His voice is strong, but carries quite a strange falsetto at the culmination of certain songs, which is almost a scream. Quite alarming! His rendition of the beautiful, heart-rending ‘Gethsemane’, however, could not be finer, and the audience responded appropriately.
Tim Rogers’ Judas manages to elicit sympathy from the audience, in spite of him being the disciple destined to betray Jesus. His preceding doubts about the path Jesus is taking turn to horror and self loathing as Jesus is arrested. He clearly portrays Judas’ agony in both his voice and his actions. Rogers gives us a man torn, but credible, who pays the ultimate price for his shattering final decision.
I loved the performances of Tom Gilling as an hilarious King Herod, and Johnathan Tweedie as an ineffectual Pontius Pilate. Forever at the behest of the Roman governors of Palestine, washing his hands as he sits on the fence rather than free Jesus. Also, I take my hat off to Cavin Cornwall as Caiaphas, the High Priest. He had the audience stunned as his ultra-deep and resonant baritone filled the theatre. Even when not singing he brings a sense of dread to the part, as he relentlessly follows his aim to execute Jesus.
Rachel Adedeji is somewhat underwhelming in the part of Mary Magdalene, a part with ostensibly great pathos and emotion. She seems slightly detached from the horror taking place around her. Only her superb rendering of the hit song of the show, ‘I Don’t Know How to Love Him’, redeems her.
The stage set is wonderful. The crown of thorns is suspended movingly above the stage throughout. The choreography is clever and effective. The song that is integral to the show, Jesus Christ Superstar is played in various forms throughout the show. But it is never overplayed. However, the real eye-opener and heart-breaker is the crucifixion scene. Never have I seen anything so horrific portrayed so realistically in musical theatre. Yet it still spares the audience the ghastly intimacies of the act. Glenn Carter is superb as the dying Christ. It is a peerless performance that has to be seen to be believed.
Jesus Christ Superstar has been around for a long time, and it is easy to see why. A superlative production in every way – and one not to miss.
images: Pamela Raith