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Jesus Christ Superstar

Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice

Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

The Lowry and touring 

May 21-25, 2024; 1hr 55 mins 

Tortured: Ian McIntos as Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar
Tortured: Ian McIntos as Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar

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Jesus Christ Superstar stops at the Lowry for a one-week run as part of an extensive national tour.

One of the earliest Lloyd Webber-Rice works, it’s been around for over 50 years – mostly in the shade, apart from its early years and best-known songs: the title number and I Don’t Know How to Love Him

I barely knew what to expect; I vaguely recall seeing the film many years ago – exciting at the time, when the duo's brand was barely launched, somewhat earnest but with a mildly hippy vibe.

What unfolds on the huge Lowry Lyric stage is a well-structured rock opera (and how often had you heard that term before this musical?), with wailing guitars, recognisable riffs and some beautiful ballads. Staging, words and music reflect a vibrant and questioning youth scene, whose members had discovered something new and exciting spreading through their world, moving outwards to have an impact on a wider, staid and over-controlled society. 

Participants here are caught up in the excitement, wondering what is real, what is not, and what role they should take. Even Jesus wonders whether he will be remembered 10 minutes after he’s gone.  A 1960s tale if ever there was one, seeking truth and enlightenment rather than sound bites.

First performed in 1971, which conceptually ran as the tail-end of the 1960s societal revolution, the show is of its time, both in attitude and music style.  

The set here works extremely well, dominated by a horizontal and angled cross. Hardly a spoiler, it serves to support the emerging group of Christians and signal the divide between them, the local and antagonistic elite, and the Roman rulers.

The audience loved it, offering a well-deserved standing ovation, and I did too. It’s quite a surprise to find such dramatic intensity in the well-known final scenes: one of the most commanding stories ever. 

Apart from that, as a musical JCS misses out on much of the standard musical theatre draws. There’s no boy meets girl to draw you in; there’s not much in the costume department either – most of the chorus and dancers look like they’re wearing baggy grey cardigans from the lower end of the Marks & Spencer range. Things perk up a little for the second act, though, when Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper colours inject some life and contrast.

After the introductory guitars there’s a slightly shaky start to the proceedings, but all soon soars with modern dance routines and some outstanding individual and chorus singing.  Shem Omari James as Judas steals some scenes with a strong, passionate voice that portrays both his doubts and his self justification. Ian McIntos as Jesus is strong from the outset, carrying conviction but throughout beset by doubt – even questioning his father about the validity of the plan strategy.

There’s a particularly strong performance from Ryan O’Donnell as Pilate, and Timo Tatzber as song and dance man Herod brings entertaining comedy.

Hannah Richardson as Mary Magdalene is outstanding, with a sweet and soulful voice and a confident sex appeal, again underlined by self doubt. 

The content of this timeless story needs no updating, but director Timothy Sheader makes an excellent job of focusing on elements that will hold the attention of a modern audience. It needs nothing further.

More info and tickets here


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