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Review of Jesus Christ Superstar at the Barbican Theatre

Matt Cardle as Pilate in Jesus Christ Superstar at the Barbican Theatre. Designer Tom Scutt; Lighting Design Lee Curran; Photo Johan Persson.
Matt Cardle as Pilate in Jesus Christ Superstar at the Barbican Theatre. Designer Tom Scutt; Lighting Design Lee Curran; Photo Johan Persson.

Back in 1970, two young men released a rock opera concept album about a historical figure using a story freely adapted from the Bible. Little did they know that in the next 49 years, their album would have taken the world by storm, spawning award-winning Broadway and West End shows and a couple of movies. The young men were Andrew Lloyd Webber & Tim Rice, and the album was, of course, Jesus Christ Superstar which, following an amazing run at the Regents Park Open Air Theatre, has just opened for a strictly limited run at the Barbican.

In ancient Israel, Jesus (Robert Tripolino) has caused quite a stir as he travels the country. To some, such as Simon Zealotes (Tim Newman), Jesus is going to be the catalyst that makes the nation rise up and overthrow their hated Roman oppressors, led by the Governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate (Matt Cardle). To the priests, Caiaphas (Gavin Cornwall) and Annas (Nathan Amzi), Jesus represents a threat to the religious establishment. And to his followers like Mary Magdalene (Sallay Garnett) and Peter (Matthew Harvey), Jesus is a bit of an enigma. Man or son of God? Teacher or leader? They are not sure but will stay with him forever. Only Judas (Ricardo Afonso) believes he sees the truth about Jesus and is very afraid of what the future holds for the man he idolises.

I’ve seen the movie of Jesus Christ Superstar many times but this was my first time seeing it performed live and, oh boy, what a performance. As the curtains parted and the guitar started the overture, I knew this was going to be good, so I sat back, relaxed and prepared to enjoy two hours of musical theatre at its absolute best. The story itself covers the last week of Jesus’s life and pretty much follows the narrative of the Easter story that we are familiar with – from the entry into Jerusalem to the crucifixion. The difference is that this version has both Jesus and Judas at its heart and, much to the consternation of some Christians, portrays Judas in a very sympathetic way. In fact, Judas is more of an enigma than Jesus is. Listening to the words of his songs and seeing his absolute loathing of Mary, who he feels has usurped him as Jesus’s right-hand person, I couldn’t help but wonder if they were some undertones to Judas and his feelings for Jesus. However, if I were to start making an assessment of every character, then we could be here a very long time. Musically and lyrically, the show has stood the test of time and for something fast approaching its fiftieth birthday, Jesus Christ Superstar doesn’t feel old

Tom Scutt’s set design is both contemporary and ancient using steel girders to form a platform for the band, under Musical Director Ed Bussey, and background trees give a real feeling of being out of doors. It is also dominated by crosses. A magnificent cross runs across the stage and crosses appear many times through the show. There is also a lot of glitter and, without going into too much detail it is used really effectively, particularly during Judas’ song “Damned for all Time/Blood Money”.

And speaking of Judas, Ricardo Afonso really delivers an outstanding performance both vocally and visually. Afonso has a total commitment to Judas and demonstrates it in so many ways. From his open loathing of Mary, to the sudden realisation of his place in history as the man that betrayed Jesus, Afonso captures Judas’s mood perfectly. Add to that an amazing voice and this is a performance not likely to be bettered for a long while. Robert Tripolino plays Jesus as a man who starts off enjoying the adulation of the crowd and really gets into being the people’s choice, but who keeps remembering his part in the overall master-plan of one far higher than he is. This really comes out during the song “Gethsemane” which has always been my favourite number in the score and which Tripolino delivers with such emotion it really tears at your heart.

Director Timothy Sheader and Choreographer Drew McOnie do a fantastic job with the amazingly talented cast of thirty performers and there are some really wonderful touches in the direction. For example, When the lovely Matt Cardle sings “Pilate’s Dream” both Jesus and Peter are accompanying him on guitar, creating a seamless link between the cause and substance of Pilate’s fears. And when Samuel Buttery appears as Herod, well it’s obvious that all the creatives really appreciate the nature of his song and its importance in breaking up the atmosphere before the brutal final moments of the story.

I really wished I had seen this version of Jesus Christ Superstar at Regents Park. I think there would have been something magical watching the story unfold as the sun set on Jesus’s life. However, I am really glad that this magnificent transfer has happened and would urge everyone to get a ticket while they can.

5 Star Rating

Review by Terry Eastham

Originally written as a rock opera album, Jesus Christ Superstar made its explosive debut on the Broadway stage in 1971. The show transferred to the West End the following year where it ran for eight years and went on to become one of the most enduring musicals of its time.

Its rock musicians, contemporary design and thrilling choreography make this energetic and emotionally charged production unforgettable.

Jesus Christ Superstar is produced by William Village and Timothy Sheader for Regent’s Park Theatre Ltd by special arrangement with The Really Useful Group Limited.

Full cast includes: Richard Afonso, Nathan Amzi, Daniel Bailey, Bernadette Bangura, Robert Bannon, Cyrus Brandon, Melanie Bright, Samuel Buttery, Matt Cardle, Georgia Carling, Cavin Cornwall, Dale Evans, Rosie Fletcher, Sallay Garnett, Luke Hall, Simon Hardwick, Matthew Harvey, Josh Hawkins, Dayle Hodge, Stevie Hutchinson, Cleopatra Joseph, Rachel Moran, Billy Nevers, Tim Newman, Tinovimbanashe Sibanda, Robert Tripolino and Elliotte Williams-N’Dure.

Director Timothy Sheader
Designer Tom Scutt
Choreographer Drew McOnie
Musical Supervisor Tom Deering
Lighting Designer Lee Curran
Sound Designer Nick Lidster for Autograph
Musical Director Ed Bussey
Fight Director Kate Waters
Associate Director (Voice & Text) Barbara Houseman
Casting Director Will Burton CDG and David Grindrod CDG

Jesus Christ Superstar at the Barbican Theatre
Barbican Theatre, Silk Street, London, EC2Y 8DS
4th July to 24th August 2019
Duration: 1 hour 55 mins
Running times: Act 1: 50 minutes | Interval: 20 minutes | Act 2: 45 minutes

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