This is not another Godspell, Joseph nor even Jesus Christ Superstar! It is more spectacular, more uplifting, even bigger! The word ‘epic’ is overused today but it encapsulates this magnificent production. To take a brand new musical about the Bible to Wembley Arena and to have over 4,000 people give it a standing ovation, speaks volumes. Yes, it is a religious show. Yes it is about God. Yes it does tell the Bible story. But it is musical theatre of such high quality that non-Christians will emerge elated by their experience. And an intoxicating experience it is too!
The story falls into 2 acts. The first covers creation, Adam and Eve and Jesus’ coming. The second act follows Jesus to his crucifixion, his ascension and to hope for the future. It is unashamedly religious in content but not in a sickly-sweet fashion. The music (Stuart Morley MD; Robbie Webb Musical Arranger), the set design (Sean Cavanagh), the direction (Tabitha Webb), the choreography (Annette Aubrey-Bradshaw), the lighting design (Ben Cracknell) and the Character Development (Israel Oyelumade) all raise this to a magnificent, quite awe-inspiring level of musical theatre.
The writer, Richard Haley, inspired by Rick Wakeman’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth, conceived the idea – a musical encapsulation of the Bible- many years ago and began writing. Three years ago he was introduced to Tabitha Webb who was then singing the female lead in The Phantom of the Opera. They worked together on Haley’s music and lyrics to produce this arena show. Webb directed and Haley produced, bringing together a highly talented cast and creative team.
To depict the creation at the opening of a show is hard but they certainly did it! The beauty and joy of creation were shown in an extravagant light show with images projected and uplifting music. The audience felt a part of creation. The use of two huge screens on both sides of the vast stage was effective, showing off the choreography beautifully. My abiding vision is seeing an aerial view of Jesus (beautifully portrayed by Paul Ayres, with great sensitivity and strength) being carried after the crucifixion. The Holy Trinity (don’t worry, it works) came to the front of the stage during the Creation and key scenes but were on the side steps, watching the unfolding story, for most of the production. Satan, powerfully played by Peri Olufunwa, was on the opposite side, ready to cause conflict. Father God (I do hope these names won’t put you off), magnificently portrayed by Dave Willetts, a seasoned West End star, playing the lead in both Les Miserables and The Phantom of the Opera, was strong yet loving; the movement of the Holy Spirit (Clyde Melville-Bain) and the vocal abilities of Ayres as Jesus, made the Trinity a compelling force. The life being breathed into Adam (Dougie Carter) and his duet with Willetts was so touching.
The eating of the apple was positively painful as the hard rock music contrasted with the joyous light moments just before as Adam and Eve (Natalie Lipin) enjoyed their freedom. The choreography and lighting were magnificent throughout but the contrast in movement and lighting were striking here. The introduction of the talented ensemble, dressed in grey, moving as if in a concentration camp, beaten and suffering, was moving. The harsh red and white shafts of light added to the horror and Satan’s wrapping of the people in a great sheath of material, later used to bind Jesus to the cross, was very emotional. It is the use of contrast in the music, lighting, projections and choreography that takes the audience on such a journey. Mother Mary (I know, this name may put you off), played by Holly-Anna Lloyd and Joseph (Joe Evans), later rejoice in their newborn child. The song that Mary sings about her love and fear for her child, echoes in all our lives, religious or not – “There’s a time when you have to let them go. I know I can’t hold you back. Go and be the man you were born to be.”
I was pleased to see some humour in the character of Zacchaeus (beautifully played by Constantine Andronikou); I think maybe some more moments when the audience could laugh would be welcome in this emotional production. Andronikou later showed his versatility in his wailing at the death of Jesus. J Marie Cooper, as Mary Magdalene, was edgy, angry and then so loyal; she was wonderfully believable. As Jesus’ followers were tempted away by Satan, in an exquisitely painful, yet beautifully choreographed manner, Mary Magdalene remained strong.
The crucifixion was enacted sensitively but much more time was given to the ascension and this reflects the big difference to Jesus Christ Superstar which ended on the crucifixion. This show takes you on to the reason and aftermath- reconciliation. Saul, wonderfully enacted by Kevin Jones, showed how Jesus’ teaching spread throughout the world. This was perhaps the least engaging part of the show as we had experienced such emotions during the Ascension and Pentecost that we felt the musical was reaching its pinnacle, only to be taken on another journey with Saul before the final moments. The very talented ensemble complemented the production and each member had an opportunity to stand alone at some part of the show. Irene Alano particularly deserves mention for her joyous song at the end.
All the cast, the creative team and the writers should be congratulated on this production: it is a mainstream arena show; it has a cast of 29 top West End stars; it has a magnificent live rock band and orchestra with 18 musicians; it is a powerful stage production; it has a wonderful story with fantastic songs. It will surely go places. I have no doubt that America will love it. I did.
Review by Valerie Cochrane
Love Beyond The Musical
Full casting: Dave Willetts ‘Father God’, Paul Ayres ‘Jesus’, Clyde Melville-Bain ‘Holy Spirit’, Dougie Carter ‘Adam’, Natalie Lipin ‘Eve’, Peri Olufunwa ‘Satan’, Holly-Anna Lloyd ‘Mary Mother’, Joe Evans ‘Joseph’, J Marie Cooper ‘Mary Magdalene’, Kevin Jones ‘Paul’, Constantine Andronikou ‘Zacchaeus’.
Feature ensemble: Kathryn Aiken, Irene Alano, Rosemary Annabella, Piers Bate, Joseph Claus, Jamie Cloutier, Sheri Copeland, Kimberley Davis, Sarah Hooper, Benjamin Isaacs, Matt Kane, Jessica Louise Parkinson, Simeon Oakes, Hannah Prentice, Matthew Rutherford, Sarah Seaman, Luke Simnett, Darren Street.
LOVE BEYOND has music and lyrics by Richard Haley and Tabitha Webb, set design by Sean Cavanagh (Dreamboats and Petticoats, Rat Pack – Live from Las Vegas, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, all West End), sound design by Mark Payne (The Matrix Live, Cinderella on Ice, Swan Lake on Ice), lighting design by Ben Cracknell (Classical Brit and Olivier Awards, Our House on tour) and Musical Direction by Stuart Morley (We Will Rock You). The show is directed by West End leading lady Tabitha Webb, who has played ‘Christine’ in Phantom of the Opera and ‘Cosette’ in Les Misérables, with choreography by Annette Aubrey-Bradshaw, founder member, an Artistic Director and choreographer at Pneumata.
The SSE Arena, Wembley
1st and 2nd October