With a cool summer air flowing through Cardiff’s Sophia Gardens on Friday evening, it felt good to take my seat at Cardiff Open Air Theatre Festival, knowing I was about to be entertained for a few hours by an iconic musical.
I say “knowing”, it’s been a good few years since I have seen a presentation Jesus Christ Superstar and usually Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s iconic soundtrack stays with me long after memories of previously viewed stage productions, fade and blur into each other. However, this version would turn out to be quite different!
Set against the backdrop of a series of events surrounding the final days of Jesus Christ’s life, the musical, now approaching its 50th anniversary, usually fuses the gospels stories with a few attitudes, sensibilities, and slang, usually from the productions 1970s genesis thrown in for good measure.
Everyman Theatre’s presentation, with direction and choreography by Richard Tunley, is rooted in the 21st century, no doubt reflecting the recent revival successes including Regents Park.
Immersive and absorbing in style and presentation, Jesus Christ Superstar opens with young people rioting on the streets of Palestine as they battle armed police to the sound of Rob Thorne Jr’s electrifying musical arrangements. The scenario is contemporary and reflective as modern day gadgets such as lap-top computers and mobile-phones blur with visual references to social media and gender equality. All aspects are set against a backdrop of action, based around traditional looking Palestinian buildings.
The ensemble cast are energetic and in sync with each other as they dance and sing the refrain to Jesus Christ Superstar’s iconic overture. The atmospheric buzz sweeps the audience along quickly as Judas, Mary Magdelene, The Apostles and subsequently Jesus are all introduced as the story unfolds.
Ashley Richards embraces the passion for his interpretation of Jesus, channelling a powerful emotion throughout his performance from tearing into the temple traders via delivering an emotional last supper address to the apostles to confronting his betrayer, Judas. Richards’ dynamic portrayal during the Crucifixion scene as the golden lights of the stage set the scene make a powerful and memorable climax.
Owain Sullivan’s Judas is the leather jacket wearing, streetwise, all-knowing commentator and Jesus ultimate betrayer. Sullivan’s portrayal commands a degree of sympathy as Judas becomes consumed by confusion, guilt and rejection in his final dramatic moments. Despite a fabulously staged departure, no-one can comprehend Judas’ own shiny showbiz encore at Jesus crucifixion alongside the soul sisters and angels.
Giaccolina Crothers not only soothes Christ’s head with water as Mary Magdalene but touches the audience with her gentle vocal performances on I Don’t Know How to Love Him and Everything’s Alright. Miss Crothers portrayal illustrates the characters love towards Jesus but also visibly the suffering she feels at the rejection of others because of Mary’s occupation as a prostitute.
The darkly clad priests, Linda Vickers, Clive Riches and Fern O Brien hold a menacing court throughout the musical, regularly flanked by armed police or acting as onlookers to Jesus activities. The depth of their menace is heightened by their leader, Caiaphas, portrayed with the ultimate baritone depth by Andrew Mossochi.
David Stephens gives an outstanding portrayal of Pilate, commanding authority, but ultimately weakened and flawed by those around him, including Dan Collier-Roberts’ King Herod who leads a gender-defying, no blushes spared, presentation of King Herod’s song.
Contemporary, fresh and featuring a cast that put every ounce of passion and drive into their performance, Everyman Theatre’s production of Jesus Christ Superstar is undoubtedly a majestic musical experience. It continues its run at Cardiff Open Air Theatre Festival until August 3, 2019.