There’s a definite buzz at Manchester’s Palace Theatre for the launch of the new Jesus Christ Superstar UK tour.
The musical’s 50-year history gives the show its own superstar status, and this production, from London’s Regent Park Open Air Theatre, arrives with a host of awards in tow, including an Olivier Award for Best Musical Revival.
Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber originally wrote the show as a concept album, and director Timothy Sheader gives us a concert-style presentation that blasts with rock-star excess from start to finish.
Tom Scutt’s dramatic, multi-layered set divides the stage with crosses-upon-crosses. There is with a huge spot-lit cross at the back reflected by a cross-shaped platform that looks like a fashion catwalk.
The band is on stage; the cast swagger with hand-held mics and plugged guitars; the ensemble flow from energetic backing dancers to backing singers with mic stands… in short, the stage is never still.
Ian McIntosh is a beefed-up, street-savvy Jesus in drop-crotch pants and hoodie. He’s dressed like and walks with the confidence of a Jay-Z JC. We see him through the jealous and confused eyes of Judas (Shem Omari James) whose passionate vocals move through aggression to tormented regret – his hands visually stained with silver as a guilt he can’t remove.
The Pharisees are given a machine-like, Kraftwerk influence with Jad Habchi delivering his lines with an almost other-worldly bass tone. Ryan O’Donnell’s leather-clad Pilate is a strong, traditional rocker, while Julian Clary gives us full-on glam-rock, with his camp, crazed King Herod who he has described as “Putin meets Cleopatra with a hint of Biggins”.
There are quieter moments such as Mary’s (Hannah Richardson) emotional ballad ‘I Don’t Know How to Love Him’ – perhaps the closest song to what you might expect from other Lloyd Webber musicals.
As a sung-through rock opera it can sometimes be difficult to make out all the words, but the thrilling sense of it comes through. We know where the story is taking us and Sheader doesn’t hold back in his graphic depiction of Jesus’ crucifixion. It’s a loud, roller-coaster, rock-god of a show that will leave you in awe.