‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ was dazzling.
Twelfth Night Theatre hosted the opening of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’, performing to a sold-out audience. The show, built by an incredibly talented team of creatives from Lynch & Paterson, was sharp, dazzling and very well-executed. The audience’s lively response to this cult classic spoke volumes about how well it was performed and directed.
With music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice, ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ follows the story of Jesus in the days leading up to his death. It offers an obscure and often unconsidered view of the biblical story, exploring the feelings of Jesus, Judas and Mary – all told through an absolutely killer soundtrack of classic rock songs. The well-renowned piece began as an album musical as it was originally unable to gain backing for a stage production. However, it was the strength of this album that catapulted the show to success. Given the strong ’70s feel to the entirety of the show and score, ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ provides a perfect cross-section between true classic rock and the drama of musical theatre. The musical is told through the eyes of both Jesus and Judas and uses music to drive the plot forward in a constant emotional rollercoaster.
For a show that has no major set changes or props, the lighting design is crucial to assisting the plot and aesthetic of the show. Tom Dodds’ lighting design, along with lighting operations by Chris Cathcart and Brianna Stanton, did not disappoint. From the very opening, the audience was greeted with an extremely ‘rock and roll’ use of pyro and silhouette to set the tone for the remainder of the show. Overall, an excellent use of lighting, silhouettes, hazers and visual effects enhanced the technical atmosphere and was beautifully designed and executed. The techniques used allowed for each song and character to remain dynamic and synchronized during the story.
The set design by David Lawrence was simple and elegant, allowing for so much movement among the cast, as well as allowing the fantastic band to be seen for the entirety of the show – a choice that was so important given the depth of this show’s music and style. In addition to the set, arguably the strongest part of this show’s aesthetic was the costumes. Designed by Anita Sweeney, outfits did not disappoint. From dazzling sequin jumpsuits to the incredibly eclectic ensemble outfits, the costumes in this show felt so genuine and relevant. Every cast member had their own unique style relative to their character, but the colouring of yellows, browns and a dominant green allowed for cohesion and good theming. Sweeney’s extensive career has clearly given her a great eye for detail and the use of costumes really amped up and immersed the production.
Maureen Bowra’s direction was extremely sharp and well thought out; with fantastically dynamic blocking choices and use of the entire stage in a way that constantly drove the show forward from scene to scene. Bowra was consistent, clever and meticulous and ushered in the perfect balance of freedom of expression and tight/timely movement. Also doubling in choreography, Bowra should be commended for the production’s incredible musicality and relevance to the show. Even some audience members looked as if they were itching to get up and join in. The dancing was consistently tight and performed with precision. Ensemble members filled the stage while still allowing lead performers to be elevated; a testament to how intricate Bowra’s movement choices were. No cast member was ever left with nothing to do and their movement was purposeful, which really helped to propel the storyline and capture the fantastic spirit of the soundtrack. Additionally, the choreography was very relevant to the retro-rock feel of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’, and this encapsulated Bowra’s love for the arts and the ’70s era.
Musical direction by Samantha Paterson and Lucas D. Lynch was truly well done and the orchestra’s tight rock sound swelled throughout the theatre. Each song was well-balanced and had great clarity, which allowed for the fantastic vocals to be highlighted and elevated. Paul Lynch did a fantastic job on drums, remaining clear and unyielding for the entirety of the show and finding the perfect volume to allow for an incredibly even sound.
In a show that rests so heavily on movement, the ensemble is crucial in both the story-telling and the overall enjoyment of each number. Having said this, no one could have asked for a better team than this one. Their tight dancing, excellent characterisation and incredibly sharp timing was a sight to behold. In moments that called for stillness and the utmost professionalism, they remained strong and fully settled into their characterisations and movements. In moments that called for the true rock spirit of dance, they burst out of the wings with energy and fun. The spirit among the ensemble could be felt from anywhere in the room and in particular their crowd work when they immersed themselves into the audience really elevated the energy of the entire production.
Out of the ensemble/supporting cast, special mention must be made of Fiona Buchanan, Connor Hawkins and Luke Woodrow. Buchanan’s edgy and beautiful characterisation of Annas along with killer vocals was an excellent fit for this show; Hawkins showed strength and commitment in his role of Priest and remained very consistent throughout the entirety of the production; and Woodrow’s performance as an ensemble member was tight, clean and so passionately spirited that one could not help but follow him and his beautiful movement wherever he went.
If the strength of the ensemble and supporting cast weren’t enough, this show then layered on an extremely talented array of lead performers. Simon Chamberlain as Jesus displayed an immense vocal range, really settling into each emotion that Jesus depicts from the top of the show to the end. Chamberlain’s calm and steady embodiment of his character found moments of peace, which radiated through the entire cast. Chamberlain also delivered heightened emotions during Jesus’ turmoil and pain leading up to the execution.
Jesse Ainsworth as Judas displayed a great use of his vocal ability to capture the true rock sound this role calls for. This show really ushers in a deeper look into Judas’ choices and his motives for betraying Jesus. Ainsworth did an excellent job of riding each emotion and showing the gradual demise of the character leading to the incredible pressure Judas was under and how that affected such actions. Given the challenging vocals, the role of Judas requires, it is difficult to not fall into the trap of pushing too hard on some of the highest notes/runs but overall, Ainsworth remained steady and in control.
Samantha Sherrin as Mary displayed a gorgeous tone. Sherrin’s vocal clarity and strength were so well suited to the role of the character and the ease with which Sherrin was able to vocalise and emote was beautiful to see. This was an excellent casting choice as Sherrin’s pitch was simply stunning and vocals were well-crafted.
Perhaps the biggest standout in terms of vocal delivery was Shannon Foley as Pilate. The particular role, whilst not as extensive as others, relies heavily on one’s ability to emit a villainous and powerful vibe, and Foley did not disappoint with a truly menacing essence. Foley’s extremely rich vocals carried depth, clarity and power; his performance was an immediate show stopper. The raw intensity that Foley achieved in each song was mesmerising.
Lynch & Paterson’s rendition of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ was an absolute knockout. Each element of the show was well-executed and the professionalism among the cast, crew and creatives was incredibly apparent throughout the entire production. The crowd’s enthusiasm was a clear indication that this absolute classic has been performed in a way that does it justice, while allowing for individuality and freedom. From the lighting and costumes to the choreography and fantastic vocals, one simply cannot miss this show.
Photography by PIF Productions.