13
Jun
13

Jesus Christ Superstar: Australian Arena Tour

 

Jesus Christ Superstar: Australian Arena


Tour
Brisbane Entertainment Centre

 
11th, 12th & 18th June 2013

 
Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

CONSUME THIS

 

 

JCS-minchin-300x0Let me just get this out of the way. I adore Tim Minchin and I don’t think I’m the only one. The legion of followers on Twitter, and the fans overheard at Brisbane Entertainment Centre on Tuesday night planning their post-show stage door strategy for meeting the stars (a decent way to wait for the carpark to clear, let’s face it, although personally, prefer a glass of something at the bar these days, having spent too many hours at stage doors in another life), as well as the standing ovation for this Judas Iscariot, indicate that the infamous atheist Minchin is the real superstar of this massive
new production. Judas has always been the plum role, in what was the first officially recognised “rock musical”, written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice after the success of their high school musical, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. I grew up with these shows playing at maximum volume (on scratchy albums, kids. RECORDS. PLAYED ON A RECORD PLAYER).

 

Through the eyes of Judas, we see the events of the last days and nights of Jesus Christ, including the crucifixion (and not, to the slight distress of staunch Christians over the years, the resurrection). If we don’t feel the anguish and self-loathing of Judas there’s something very wrong with the production. In this role, Minchin gives generously so much anguish, self-loathing, confusion and disbelief that there are a couple of moments to bring us to tears if we are so inclined. His Heaven On Their Minds sets up for a faultless performance; it’s a gutsy and unforgiving opening, and Damned For All Time/Blood Money and Judas’s Death set Minchin well apart from the other strong leads, including my (other) favourite, Jon Stevens, whose performance is exceptional despite some unusual directorial decisions having been applied to his character, Pontius Pilate. He nevertheless commands the stage at every moment. These two performers are in a calibre of their own and will have you completely captivated.

 

I saw Stevens as a bare-chested, black-leather-pants-clad certified Rock God Judas in the last arena tour (in the round) in 1992, with John Farnham as Jesus, Kate Ceberano as Mary Magdalene, Angry Anderson as Herod, and John Waters as Pilate. Incidentally, going by the evidence kindly provided by the form-fitting black Nike gear he wears so well, Stevens is in better shape now than he was then. Just saying. By leaping into both demanding roles, Stevens has well and truly proven his versatility and his prowess as a stage performer (and look, in 1992 certified Rock Gods making their musical theatre debut could get away with taking a breath in the middle of a phrase), not to mention his commitment to basic stagecraft, which is not to be undervalued even (or especially) at this level.

 

 

Ben Forster, who won the title role in the British Superstar comp, can’t help but head into overly dramatic territory, where his vocals suffer slightly when there’s no need to push it; clearly, he has the necessary vocal range and depth of emotion. Despite his obvious talent and earnest efforts, he seemed slightly fatigued and his Gethsemane failed to move me, with his best moments happening in tandem with Minchin. The kiss from Judas, and the embrace that follows it, is heart wrenching. I defy you to sit unmoved during this small, spectacular moment. The devil is in the detail.

 

 

Andrew O’Keefe as Herod in a flashy red velvet suit, manages to pull off an appropriately cheesy reality television game show, complete with faux audience participation, our host pandering to the cameras, and a bevvy of beautiful Deal or No Deal (well, they’re really “Lord or Fraud”) girls in gold. The girls return later, as SMASH style angels, in frilly knickers and corsets, and help leather-bound Minchin to make Superstar the showstopper. In one foul swoop, there it is, exactly what we came to experience; the Superstar Arena Spectacular!

 

Mel C – who is being raved about by other critics so, you know, don’t take my word for it – forgot, I think, that she was here to play the role of Mary Magdalene and after her perfectly measured part in Everything’s Alright, insisted on reverting to Sporty Spice style, shouting more than singing I Don’t Know How to Love Him. (I’m sorry, but you got nothin’ on our Naomi Price, girlfriend!), and Could We Start Again Please (poor, poor Peter – the talented Tom Parsons – didn’t stand a chance!). Suffice to say, after her first number, Mel C failed to impress me. AND I WAS READY TO BE IMPRESSED. After all, each and every lead role in this show is so, so, SO covetable, and we (quite rightly) expect the best. It’s not just a matter of getting up and making your mark as one of these characters. We need to see more than the star on stage. To be cast in any iconic show demands a step away from the ego and a back to basics approach in terms of discovering and developing characters and relationships. It’s the difference between recognising an actor like Robert De Niro or Daniel Day Lewis in a role, and not seeing anyone other than Keanu Reeves in a role. JUST SAYING.

 
gal-land-Renee-20Melides_A0C0739-620x414 Director, Lawrence Connor, has drawn on the global Occupy Movement to perfectly recontextualise this adaptation, dragging even the most reluctant of the original 1970s fan base into Big Brother’s digital age, with news updates, headlines and tweets (and hashtags, including #RomeLies and #FollowTheTwelve – of course I loved it!) embedded on the massive screen before us in between live-streamed footage of the performers and the changes in surroundings. It’s more like a rock concert than a musical, with camera operators sharing the steps and stage space with the cast and band, and a lighting design by Patrick Woodroffe worthy of a Freddie Mercury Resurrection Tour.

 

Speaking of the band, I don’t often list an entire collective but these guys, placed in full view on the scaffold at either side of the steps/stage space are outstanding, and if you faked a standing ovation in order to surreptitiously take your leave and get out to your car during the play-out music SHAME ON YOU. You missed the final fantastic notes from Louise Hunt (Musical Director/keys), Peter Adams (keys), Lewis Osborne (guitar), Frissi Karlson (guitar), Phil Mulford (bass), Andy McGlasson (drums), John Clark (percussion), Nicole Dixon (French horn), Kate Robertson (sax & wind instruments), and Greg Spence (trumpet). Regardless of your final thoughts about this production, you can’t fail to appreciate the expertise of the musos involved. The same applies to th ensemble, which gives this story much of its energy, excitement and contemporary urban grunge. Their vocals are superb.   GHMinchineJCSSAW-20130608151017170064-620x349

 

There are some clunky scene transitions – there usually are in Superstar and the set is perhaps less visually arresting than expected, although Minchin’s last entrance from – literally – “the gods” up above us, and the lighting bars used for the cross worked well. I’m surprised I didn’t get shivers upon hearing the opening strains of the guitar (it didn’t seem LOUD enough!), or in the final moments (it didn’t seem to MATTER enough!), and I’m disappointed that I didn’t feel completely awestruck by this…impressive production.

 

I love Jesus Christ Superstar – our Sunshine Coast production, directed by Cirque’s Mark Bromilow and staged in a warehouse in Kawana in 1999, retains the record for the largest audience numbers in a season on the Sunshine Coast – and the majority will love this Arena Spectacular, which is everything its tag suggests it should be. But there’s a big-budget-big-ego issue overshadowing a few of the elements, which is keeping me from really LOVING it. That’s not to say I wouldn’t enjoy seeing Tim Minchin the show again!

 

I was impressed enough to get online and book two more tickets for the third and final Brisbane performance – for my husband, the producer of that unforgettable local production in ‘99, and for my dad, singing at the top of his voice and playing the original scratchy cast recording since 1970.
 

Jesus Christ Superstar should be experienced at least once in a lifetime and the Arena Spectacular is a terrific, high-voltage version so book your last-minute tickets and chalk it up!

 


 

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