Jesus Christ Superstar

Having seen the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre production of Jesus Christ Superstar during the summer of Covid, I was excited to see this show again, but this time indoors at the Birmingham Hippodrome.  Leaving a show with a sense of speechlessness is never good for a reviewer, but this show is a theatrical blessing of biblical proportions and needs to be seen.

Probably one of the most famous Lloyd Webber/Rice musicals, originally written as a concept album which finally received its first onstage performance on Broadway in 1971, the show you see today has been updated and reinvented, where music is at the forefront.  Opening with the loud sound of a Rock guitar and the cast running down the aisles of the auditorium in an array of hoodies and harem pants, it was clear that we were in for a treat.  The onstage band, under the musical supervision of Tom Deering did a fantastic job throughout the show.  It was also wonderful to see a few characters, including Jesus and Pilate playing guitar during their moments on stage.

The first song we hear ‘Heaven On Their Minds’ is performed by Judas, the man who double crossed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver.  Shem Omari James as Judas was quite simply stunning.  His vocal range was impressive, able to sing any note perfectly.  The moments between him and Jesus (Ian McIntosh) were dramatic, tense and powerful, with their exchanges feeling more like battles.  The use of handheld microphones intensified the sound and again made the production feel modernised.

Ian McIntosh was known to me as Galileo Figaro from We Will Rock You, so I already knew he had the perfect ‘rock’ voice to tackle this rock musical, however I wasn’t prepared for such an intense performance of Gethsemane and felt myself clutching my chest by the end.  The precision in each note, the falsetto sound, the power and gravitas provided throughout this particular number will stay with me for a while.  Notwithstanding the incredible performance, the lighting by Lee Curran during this number was so impactful and impressive, it really emphasised the power of good lighting to change a mood or enhance a moment.  For a role which found McIntosh on stage for the majority of the show, he was the perfectly cast Jesus, living through the moment of crucifixion spectacularly, with a blood-soaked body, again leaving me, and I’m sure the rest of audience, completely worn out!

There were so many notable musical moments, especially ‘Pilate’s Dream’ performed by Ryan O’Donnell, who stood alone with his guitar under a cloud of mist providing such a beautiful rendition of this song.  ‘Herod’s Song’ performed by Timo Tatzber in full gold cloak which was whipped away to reveal another equally stunning gold costume, was also a treat.  This song had elements of Cabaret and the Emcee in particular about it.  Tatzber was a complete joy to watch.  Exceptional performances also came from Luke Street as Simon, Matt Bateman as Annas and Jad Habchi as Caiaphas who has the most incredible bass in his voice that I think surprised everyone as soon as he started to sing.  Also, a shout out to Louise Francis as Mary Magdalene who sang a heartfelt version of ‘I Don’t Know How To Love Him’.  What a journey through some of the best voices I’ve heard on stage for a very long time.

Now, I mentioned earlier how music plays a big part in this show and this was echoed by Jesus having his hands bound by microphone leads, for his crucifixion to take place on a speaker stand, and the use of red microphone leads was striking as the colour of blood.  It is these incredible artistic decisions, that sets this show apart.  The staging design by Tom Scutt was atmospheric, with the use of mist/fog throughout, and soft lighting which creates an almost sepia colour pallet on stage.  Of course, there were moments of bright white spotlights used during certain numbers, but the overall more subdued feel of the staging leaves a lasting impression.

The ensemble cast are incredible.  With choreography by Drew McOnie, every scene was slick, perfected and tight with a very contemporary dance feel throughout.  There were inventive scenes depicting the Last Supper and interesting costume choices during ‘Herod’s Song’ where we were greeted with ensemble cast members as ‘heads on plates’ with blood splattered clothing.  Every detail has been thought through thanks to Director Timothy Sheader.

There are not many shows that I leave feeling quite breathless and unable to process the gravity of the emotion poured out on stage, however in its current format, Jesus Christ Superstar is one of those shows that will leave you speechless for all the right reasons and is a definite must see.

This show was reviewed on the 22nd April 2024 at Birmingham Hippodrome where it runs until the 27th April 2024.  Tickets available here: Jesus Christ Superstar – Birmingham Hippodrome

Full tour details can be found here: Jesus Christ Superstar • UK Tour • Official Website & Tickets

Review written by Emma Rowley


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