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Jesus Christ Superstar – New Wimbledon Theatre | Review

Timothy Sheader’s production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar was initially conceived for Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre in 2016. Since then, it has returned to Regent’s Park, had a transfer to the Barbican, and is now on tour around the UK; this week, making a stop in London at the New Wimbledon Theatre.

Jesus Christ Superstar UK Tour 2023-2024. Photo credit: Paul Coltas
Jesus Christ Superstar UK Tour 2023-2024. Photo credit: Paul Coltas

It’s perhaps not surprising that the production started off as a concept album; the story of Jesus’ final few days leading up to his crucifixion doesn’t seem the most obvious pitch for an all-singing, all-dancing, jazz-hands sort of musical. The music however is epic and electric. Under Tom Deering’s musical supervision, Lloyd Webber’s score blasts through the auditorium, with sharp, high-pitched strings that echo the screams and cries of Jesus and the other characters. It really lifts you off your seat and strikes you with very raw emotion. Less successful is the sound mix of the microphones. Lyrics are tricky to hear at times, and whether that’s an issue with the levels or just a general diction problem across the cast is hard to be sure of. I must admit, I fall into the category of people who know practically nothing about the actual story here, so was relying quite heavily on the storytelling from the production to make sense of it all, and with quite a lot of lyrics hard to understand it does become tricky to follow.

Drew McOnie (who has recently taken over from Sheader as Artistic Director of Regent’s Park) choreographs this production, with an ensemble whose movement is highly contemporary and stylised, sometimes moving as one, pulsing, or creating different shapes, with a noticeable featuring of hands often at the forefront of the movement. A nice touch of symbolism there. McOnie’s choreography works in tandem with Lee Curran’s lighting design, with both elements giving the production a real sense of movement. Curran’s design is dark and hazy, with bold washes of blue, red, or more misty purple setting the tone. There’s also a striking use of bright white lights which climb up a tall cross-shaped structure at the back of the stage in Tom Scutt’s set design; the cross cleverly mirrored in a platform on the stage itself. Scutt’s costume design features loose-fitting, muted-coloured clothing, which also blends nicely with the other design elements; a bit of colour is then introduced with red and dark blue blankets in the second act, as the threat of death gets closer and closer.

Ian McIntosh as Jesus certainly has the vocals for this role. However, his performance in the first act is a little lacking. It’s hard to follow his emotional arc until he’s being whipped in the second act, which is when he really does start to emote. The same goes for Shem Omari James as Judas and Hannah Richardson as Mary. James seems to burst onto the stage in a state of wonder, anger or passion, but it’s not very clear what his wants or desires are in relation to the story. Once again though, his vocals are spectacular. Richardson’s version of ‘I Don’t Know How to Love Him’ is beautifully sung, vocally flawless, but the emotions don’t seem very believable as she sings her conflict “I want him so” though “He scares me so“. Given the dynamism of the choreography and the consistency of understated performances from the leads, this possibly sits more with Sheader’s direction than the actors themselves. His production very much embraces the concept album origins of the work, leaning into the gig nature of the production, with actors holding hand mics and Herod’s men even using microphone hands as weapons at one point. This allows for a particularly effective ending as Jesus is attached to a microphone stands for his crucifixion, his body and face all bloodied.

I think it’s a shame in such a visually exciting production that the story is so lost. That being said, the visuals and the music manage to make it still a wonderfully entertaining evening, and in particular a real celebration of Lloyd Webber’s fantastic score.

4 stars

Review by Joseph Dunitz

Starring Ian McIntosh (We Will Rock You, Follies, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical) as Jesus, Shem Omari James (Dreamgirls UK Tour) as Judas and Hannah Richardson (Sting’s The Last Ship) as Mary. Originally staged by London’s Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, this reimagined production won the 2017 Olivier Award for Best Musical Revival, garnering unprecedented reviews and accolades.

Choreographed by Drew McOnie (King Kong, Strictly Ballroom), with music and lyrics by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, Jesus Christ Superstar is set against the backdrop of an extraordinary series of events during the final weeks in the life of Jesus Christ, as seen through the eyes of Judas. Reflecting the rock roots that defined a generation, the legendary score includes ‘I Don’t Know How to Love Him’, ‘Gethsemane’ and ‘Superstar’. Directed by Timothy Sheader, with design by Tom Scutt, lighting design by Lee Curran, sound design by Nick Lidster and music supervision by Tom Deering.

New Wimbledon Theatre
Monday 13 to Saturday 18 May 2024
1 hour 50 minutes incl. interval
Book Tickets for New Wimbledon Theatre

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