Friday, 3 April 2015

Jesus Christ Superstar

As it's Easter, David Martin looks at the phenominan that is Jesus Christ Superstar and why it was a really bad decision to case Chris Moyles as Herod...

It's hard to believe that Jesus Christ Superstar started life as a Rock Opera Concept album, especially considering it has enjoyed global success and countless staged versions. Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice certainly know how to write them and Superstar remains one of my favourites. The show has a wonderful musical pacing as well as some memorable scenes and I love that it places the focus on Christ's relationship with Judas. The storyline has courted controversy amongst Christians due to it's abrupt end at the death of Christ along with some rather interesting sentiments on the divinity of the main man. Not wanting to wade to heavily into the theological variances or to divulge my own views I will just say that if one is to believe anything at all surely that faith isn't going to be challenged by silly Webber and his loud musicals! It was never intended to be an accurate portrayal of the Biblical Jesus, so don't treat it as such!

For the purposes of this appreciation of Superstar I have decided to focus on the recent revival version which was toured widely but enjoyed great success at the 02 arena in 2013. This was the version that starred Ben Forster, his six pieces of silver offering for winning the embarrassingly bad talent show Superstar. It also starred the brilliant Tim Minchin as Judas, Ex Spice Girl, Mel C, as Mary and Chris Moyles, ex loud mouth from Radio 1 Breakfast Show fame, as Herod. The set was huge and supposedly the take was vast but would it work? Transposing Superstar for a more cynical and world weary new millennium could prove a step too far as the music itself betrays its roots. It IS very seventies Rock Opera because that's what is is, no bad thing in my book but the O2 is a vast venue. So House Lights down and let the overture begin!

Mel C Messing With Chris Moyles Superstar

As a musician I do appreciate a good live band or orchestra or anything really. As you would expect for a performance of this size the "pit band" has been increased from that which you would typically find at a theatre. Superstar has a wonderful overture that mixes Webber's love of strings and orchestral arrangement with a fantastic and fast paced rock sound. By the end of the overture I know I am going to enjoy this! the set is brilliant and whilst still retaining the feel of the original staging it has a more technical feel. Ive always enjoyed the fluid nature of Superstar as scenes merge into each other with actors wandering on and off stage. Highlights for the first half are the funktastic Whats the Buzz, Jesus and his disciples really show casing their vocal skills and dammit that Forster bloke can sing. His vocal range is amazing but it really is Minchin's show. I have always admired Tim Minchin's comedy and his talent as a musician is obvious. What I didn't realise is how good an actor he is and combining the two at the level that Superstar demands is breath taking. Minchin is all rebellious guerrilla but questioning Christ's God complex in a confused and conflicted manner that is so effectively portrayed. Judas the scapegoat of the New Testament simply was questioning Christ's motivation and that the divinity is misplaced. The ruling Pharisees have always been portrayed as city banks in long flappy overcoats, not so here they're all sharp dressed suited gentleman with an ominous Illuminati symbol behind them. I have to say it isn't all great though as I have to discuss Melanie Chisholm's casting as Mary. She has to sing the iconic song I don't know how to love him, its all angsty and romantic. Now my problem is that I have always found Chisholme's singing a little screechy, actually can I be honest? Her voice, especially on the higher notes, reminds me of an especially irritated cat with severe bowel trouble. Neither does she have the acting ability and she kinda mooches around the stage aimlessly. I need to address the whole Spice Girl thing, they were absolutely huge and, try as I might, I cannot erase from my mind the expectations shes going to sing Wannabe. Bad casting decision and I can only imagine that it was made as an audience grabber, she isn't entirely terrible, she just isn't great. Oh save me please, here comes Chris Moyles and he's going to destroy Herod's big number isn't he? Actually, he's not as bad as I feared, suited in a crushed velvet red suit and sporting a cheesy plop eating grin as he parades around Jesus like some First Century Game Show Host. He just about manages to get through is single number without destroying it but I think this may be due to the pantomime nature of the role. It requires a game show host with cheesy winks and knowing nods at the audience so probably perfect casting.

Jesus Under Pressure

The staging of Judas death was always going to be a tough one to master, mainly because its normally acceptable to kill members of the cast. Judas hangs himself in full view of the audience here and its actually quite shocking! Jesus Christ Superstar has been successfully updated for our generation with the inclusion of mobile phones and text messages but also video news footage shown on large screens. The show was always intended to pack a social and political punch and it still does, very effectively. The show is currently touring and you can book tickets here, the cast may be different from the casting in this version but I'd strongly suggest you catch this timeless musical live.

Whats The Fuss?

Happy Easter everyone, who ever you think Jesus was and what ever you choose to celebrate.

David Martin is a firm believer in wider reading but also spends his time watching horror films and going to the theatre. He has been known to venture outside but prefers worlds he can imagine. Follow him on Twitter at @ventspleen2014

Images From Jesus Christ

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