Photos – Tristram Kenton
It is rare that an international musical production is able to be transported across to Australia, with it's entire cast almost intact. Only two Australians were in fact cast for this arena tour of Jesus Christ Superstar – Jon Stevens (who starred in the hugely successful revivals in the 90s) and Andrew O'Keefe. Tim Minchin was already a prime part of the original UK tour, playing Judas.
One of Andrew Lloyd Webber (Music) and Tim Rice's (Lyrics) greatest successes, this 70s rock opera has had numerous productions and revivals around the world and continues to attract new audiences.
This production, led by director Laurence Connor, has brilliantly re-imagined the staging for a contemporary audience living in a troubled world, with news and social media at the finger tips of so many. Connor has had previous success with his 25th Anniversary productions for Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera, receiving great acclaim for both.
With a giant screen at the rear and two smaller screens on each side of the stage, the show opens with a montage of real news images. The rioting on screen becomes a crowd on stage protesting with banners reading Rome Lies and Believe the Twelve. It soon becomes clear with the predominance of hooded jumpers and street moves, that what we are about to witness resembles more of a religious Rent than any previous production of JCS yet seen. And most of it works brilliantly.
The very large ensemble envelopes the stage to great effect, which occasionally does look a little messy. Camera crew capturing the performance live, moving in around the action is also a slight distraction. The bonus is that the images and live editing give a brilliant backdrop to the action below and allows for close-ups and detail that would otherwise not be seen.
The principals are practically faultless. Jon Stevens (a crowd favourite, who has previously played Judas) is vocally impressive and believable as Pontius Pilate. Leon Craig who has had to replace Andrew O'Keefe (due to injury), is a great, camp Herod – a very assured performance. The multi-talented (and now Tony-nominated) Tim Minchin, shows himself to be an accomplished and intense dramatic actor/singer in the pivotal role of Judas. There are no laugh opportunities here, and he never slips out of character.
So too for newcomer Ben Forster, who won the role after a television talent search in the UK. His Jesus is powerful, emotional and a star-making performance.
The biggest surprise (for me, anyway) was the impressive Melanie C (or Melanie Chisholm) as Mary Magdalene. Best known as a former Spice Girl, and with the only female principal role in the show, she holds her own and delivers a standout performance. Her biggest solo number, the famous I Dont Know How To Love Him is sung so well and in a manner that no one previously had done. Not an easy feat for anyone to make something so familiar their very own.
The musical arrangements are great. The sound is loud (we are in an arena), but you can actually hear everyone, so for once, top marks to the sound mixing.
This is a very impressive production of Jesus Christ Superstar, not without fault, but well worth the effort to either re-visit or experience for the very first time.
The Frontier Touring Company and The Really Useful Group
JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR
by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice
Director Laurence Connor
Venue: Rod Laver Arena Melbourne
Dates: 14 – 16 June, 2013