Jesus Christ Superstar, the smash-hit musical that launched the careers of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber and spawned dozens of rock operas, has come to the New Wimbledon Theatre for one week only.
Originally banned by the BBC on the grounds of being ‘sacrilegious’ it retells the story of the days leading to Jesus’ death through the eyes of Judas Iscariot with a steady stream of 70s pop-rock tunes.
As the curtain opens Judas is getting fed up with the way Jesus is running things and accuses him of hypocrisy and having generally gotten too big for his boots.
It is clear that fame has gone to Jesus’ head, he practically swaggers onto the stage and seems to thoroughly enjoy being serenaded and adored by his troupe of synchronised sycophants.
The set is extremely effective, with imposing rectangular columns on both sides and an ornate ceiling-high gate which opens to reveal a golden backdrop.
Glenn Carter has played the lead in the West End, on Broadway and on film, and there is no doubt that he has the vocal stamina needed for the role.
But it was Tim Rogers who really shone as Judas Iscariot – Rogers captures the cynicism, then the moral confusion leading to his betrayal and finally the regret of his character and a truly powerful suicide scene.
As Mary Magdalene, X Factor finalist Rachel Adedeji showcased her effortless, powerful vocals in Everything’s Alright and I Don’t Know How to Love Him, although she failed to express the emotions of the songs in her overall performance.
The Jewish priests were portrayed with brilliant menace, Cavin Cornwall as Caiaphas glided onto the stage silently and sinisterly.
He has the deepest, most rumbling and villainous of voices, and can send shivers down your spine with a single slow gesture with one of his long, bejewelled fingers.
Jesus Christ Superstar is one of the most popular productions among amateur theatre groups, with an average of 300 such productions licensed each year.
First-time viewers of the younger generations are too familiar with the parodies of this style of musical to appreciate the scandalous impact it had 40 years ago or take the drama seriously.
In terms of any irreverence it may have had initially, it has long been surpassed by musicals such as The Book of Mormon that have taken world stages by storm.
It is also not deeply rooted enough in 1970s culture to play up the kitsch factor, although some of its more well-known songs redeemed it in my eyes.
In fact, I spent most of Hosanna and What’s the Buzz jiggling in my seat due to the enthusiastic foot-tapping and finger conducting of the elderly man in the seat next to mine.
This is a wonderfully staged and well-acted production and for those who know and love it, this production will certainly please.
Picture courtesy of Pamela Raith Photography, with thanks