Harvest Rain’s Superstar

Harvest Rain Theatre Company does Jesus Christ Superstar…hardly surprising, is it?! A company known and largely respected for its Christian ethos and fun-for-all-the-family shows. What was surprising about this latest production was that it was excellent! Let me explain that tone of text. You know I’ve been skeptical about some aspects of this company in the past, resulting in some very amusing numbers games on my Facebook Friends List (not to mention the comments on my wall)! However, credit where credit is due…though I had some issues with certain aspects of the show, it certainly exceeded my expectations. Here’s why:

Luke Kennedy, the company’s star vehicle (having taken a break from a two year stint with The Ten Tenors), was never far from sight in the months leading up to opening night. In online media and in the city of Brisbane, he and that crown of thorns pervaded the place like…well, just like I imagine Christ Himself would like to promote his own arrival amongst us, if only he had the same marketing team and chose to rock up at QPAC.

Luke is, indeed, a superstar. Just check this out.



This song, this role, demands the singer’s soul and Luke shared his – all of it. His interpretation of Jesus – the man – was multi-faceted and his entire sung performance was heartfelt, his vocal work extraordinary and the relationship between he and Mary Magdalene particularly (in contrast to her DIVAS alter-ego, a very different and genuine, gentle Naomi Price), demonstrated a self-awareness that certainly – strangely – doesn’t come through in the filmclip for Instant Karma, the first single from his debut album, Overexposed, though it may well have been seen in previous character roles…I know not for I cannot claim to have seen them all.



Unfortunately, because we had double-booked our post show drinks, we were obliged to take off immediately after the show, to Drift, where the Moet and Ms Rachel Dunham and Matt Fennell were, rather than wait with the masses of family members, friends and fans at stage door and so, subsequently missed catching up with Luke and Co. and picking up a copy of his CD, of which I am keen to hear more! Incidentally, I felt like an idiot saying hello to Nathan Foley, as we raced past, having not seen his show at all (Mama Mia) the same night. I assume he assumed we had done.

Tod Strike’s Judas was intense and melancholic and I waited for him to find that other, other aspect of the role; that strange, distorted, devastating pride and absolute, unfailing love for the man, which serves to raise the stakes into a whole other realm when coupled with the obvious choices of envy, resentment and self-pity/loathing/insert preferred adjective here…if it is allowed to surface. I wanted him to lose the clever vocal tricks and deliver some gut-wrenching feeling. After Heaven on Their Minds I’m not sure I saw enough raw emotion and much later, I was unconvinced that his suicide had actually occurred at all! This was more an oversight (or undersight) in the direction and I wonder if the content of some noticeably absent sections of the book – e.g. “Judas, must you betray me with a kiss?” – I wonder if there were a couple of things that proved just as unsavoury so they were omitted altogether? Again, I have to note, were it not a company with a proud public Christian face, it wouldn’t beg the questions…

Other directorial peculiarities:

  • The story within a story. This was the original convention used in the 1973 film and I have always loved it. In this production, it didn’t work. Not quite sure why. There was evidence of a solid notion but not of a fully conceived and consistently applied approach. Perhaps the entire exuberant ensemble needed to pile out of a combi and don their costume pieces onstage, rather than set apart the leads, in a parade past a costume box, whom we would have discovered in their roles as they played them anyway. The close-the-Good-Book-to-close-the-show just felt contrived and dismal. I thought Harvest Rain would end this show on a surprisingly upbeat note, in light of the widely held belief amongst Christians that Christ will come again…I too needed to leave with hope, not despair!
  • The anti-climax of Christ’s death upon the cross. Yes! Sorry, but yes. And yes, of course I’ve read all the other reviews and yes, of course I know you have to do it and yes, at least half of you will disagree that this was not in fact, as intended, the show’s emotional climax (we already had that, waaay back in Gethsemene, thanks to Mr Kennedy. IMHO). Great, powerful staging but I got only a semblance of the gamut of emotions and I suddenly thought, “Oh, why is it so hard to procure Luke’s soul again for the penultimate (spoken) moments?!” I also wondered why he was not on tiptoes the whole time and why his head was not looking dreadfully heavy up there and increasingly difficult to lift/hold up and why his fists remained clenched in death. I know. I’m hard to please.
  • The title number, Jesus Christ Superstar, utterly confused me. WHY did Judas, after his inconsequential suicide, insist on shutting out the bright white light of Jesus, spilling through those massive doors, not once, not twice but several times throughout the number?! The whole point to this number is to celebrate (and recap for the audience) the life of Jesus, is it not? I was desperate to see Judas champion this song! Joyful, joyful and all that stuff! Again, awesome vocal talent and killer good looks aside, I felt that Tod was not challenged to find the joy or indeed, the WIN in this number. Sometimes, in trying to do something altogether different, in order to establish ourselves as original theatre-makers, we hurt the story…or don’t quite tell it. And we limit the characters’ arcs and their relationships.
  • Transitions were non-existent. The jukebox musicals are not my faves in any context but this almost started to feel like one…and it shouldn’t have. Unless you bill it as a concert, work hard on the transitions of a show. Help your performers get from one situation/emotion to the next; their job is tough enough as it is! If there is no definite break shown in the score, why not let the band, who were strategically placed across the beautifully ruined cathedral setting, play through?

I really would like to see Harvest Rain, resisting trying too hard to be different for the sake of being different. It was not all the time, it was just every now and then; there were moments of, “Oh, there they go, trying to be different“. For example, Judas singing not to Mary or Jesus but to members of the ensemble, about the wasted fine ointments, brand new and expensive, which could have been saved for the poor…Sam and I argued about this. I didn’t feel that it worked. He did. He liked that it was directed so differently and to him, gave the story another colour.

Something a little different, which certainly had the desired effect, was the cool, creepy, puppet-like council, comprised of a host of fabulous voices and characterisations. In their white and red tatters and odd fur pieces, they were suitably freaky, frightening, and gave us just a hint of the rock star style that some of us saw (although I was VERY young) in those great bands of the 70’s.

This is a company who are just now, from an onlooker’s perspective at least, beginning to find their feet and beginning to get really good at the type of theatre they like to make, with a core group of performers with whom they like to make it (it must also be said that they are doing a great job of attracting new, young people to their shows, both onstage and off. And somebody is running a pretty tight ship during the rehearsal process)! Anyway, my point here is that of course it’s vital to try new approaches and employ new conventions but make sure they serve the purpose, tell the story, or else make another choice. One choice will be perceived as effective and another as calculated, contrived and maybe even a little naive.

The production elements – sound, lighting, set, costume, chore – were superb. On other nights, but not last night, I believe there were basic sound issues. You would think, in our premiere venue, companies like Harvest Rain, who are upholding their end of the bargain and putting on a great show, would not have to suffer through inadequate sound! What IS it with the sound?!

What an extraordinary creative team there is in Josh McIntosh (Designer), Maitlohn Drew (Musical Director), Jason Glenwright (Lighting Designer) and Callum Mansfield (Choreographer). With Director, Tim O’Connor, they really have put together a spectacular-looking and sounding show. In fact, it occurred to me, awestruck by the arrangement for Pilate’s Dream, that Mr Drew could do the schools’ and church choirs a favour and make his pieces available for download! Mr O’Connor is clearly, a mover and shaker of people and he has assembled a great team to support that, both on stage and off.

On stage, the 62 member ensemble were truly a joy to behold, vibrant and singing and dancing and living it. I loved some of the character work and all of the commitment, focus and energy from a great, gorgeous, courageous bunch of young people. A couple of stunning dancers stood out, particularly during Herod’s hilarious number. With the incomparable Steven Tandy running that part of the show they were always going to shine! It looked like such fun! And so funny, really; I had to laugh out loud!

The other stand out performance for me was Mr Lionel Theunissen’s, whose Pilate is unmatched by any I’ve seen. His was the mastery of emotional layers: self-inflicted pain and guilt, a forced hand, self-righteousness and absolute helplessness in a position of power; a theatrical storytelling treat.

I wonder where else Harvest Rain would go now, having firmly established themselves at QPAC? The calibre and perceived success of this production certainly begs the question again, doesn’t it? Perhaps not. Perhaps no one else is asking anymore. Perhaps they’ll stay and we’ll simply continue to enjoy, more and more, their shows there.

1 Response to “Harvest Rain’s Superstar”

  1. 1 Ben Johnson
    September 2, 2010 at 12:51 pm

    Was impressed with some elements of JC Superstar as delivered by Harvest Rain TC, and bitterly disappointed with others. Pilate and Herod were brilliant and the politicians (can’t spell Pharoceeeeeeees) were great too. Singing was powerful, set was fabulous.

    Mary M was terrible as an actor – didn’t create a connection with JC at all IMO. Judas blew hot and cold for the whole performance. Show seemed like a series of songs rather than a storytelling song cycle.

    Jesus was excellent except for one unforgivable lapse: he drifted off during Gethsemane; just seemed to lose focus in the middle somewhere, which marred an otherwise great performance from him. That’s a helluva lapse, though.

    And there was something off about the “attitude” in most of the first Act. Couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but it seemed there was too much levity – it was all just a little too smiley.

    Having said all that, others that I saw the show with absolutely loved it and didn’t necessarily share my disappointment.

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