It’s been almost a month since the final of ITV’s Superstar, in which Ben Forster rose above the 11 other contestants on the show to win the coveted role of ‘Jesus’ in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s forthcoming arena tour of Jesus Christ Superstar. With the musical’s opening night at London’s O2 Arena on 21st September rapidly approaching, rehearsals are well underway, but it was only yesterday that brought the details of ‘what’s a-happening’ with the production’s full cast. News of Tim Minchin, Melanie Chisholm and Chris Moyles’ casting as ‘Judas’, ‘Mary Magdalene’ and ‘King Herod’ respectively had already been reported before Superstar aired on TV and Forster’s subsequent win cemented the casting of the lead role, but until now, further information regarding the rest of the company has been kept tightly under wraps.
Whenever someone makes a decision about anything in life, there are inevitably going to be those who approve of it and those who don’t: the same is true of casting decisions. I’m not the biggest fan of using celebrity names over trained musical theatre performers to sell a show, but I’m enough of a realist to see that it’s a highly effective way to ensure a production’s run is financially viable. There was a lot of controversy over the casting of Minchin, Chisholm and Moyles – some courting more than others – for JCS, who are hardly seasoned performers of the MT stage. I have my own thoughts about it, as do many people, and some have been very vocal about theirs. For those that are vehemently against the idea of celebrity names taking precedence over the industry’s own though, the release of the full cast list for JCS may help to appease them.
West End and Broadway star Alexander Hanson has been announced in the role of ‘Pilate’, the Roman governor who reluctantly sentences Jesus to death by crucifixion at his trial. The British actor has a wealth of theatre credits to his name, having previously appeared in such West End productions as The Sound of Music, An Ideal Husband and We Will Rock You, originating the role of ‘Khashoggi’. He was also involved in both the West End and Broadway productions of A Little Night Music. He is joined by Pete Gallagher as ‘Caiaphas’, who has appeared in West End shows like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Buddy and Doctor Dolittle, as well as having previous experience of JCS in both the West End production at the Lyceum and the 2000 film. Gerard Bentall plays ‘Annas’, coming from shows such as Les Miserables, Fame and Whistle Down the Wind, in addition to Giovanni Spanno (Grease, Mamma Mia, Footloose) as ‘Simon’ and Michael Pickering (Wicked, High School Musical, All The Fun of The Fair) as ‘Peter’. The casting of these five men lends their experienced hands to the JCS party and helps to bring a semblance of balance to its company.
There is also a multitude of musical theatre talent within the folds of the ensemble team. Reading through the names on the cast list you will undoubtedly find some you recognise. There is Ian Carlyle, who made his West End debut in The Lion King, was most recently seen as ‘Brit’ in We Will Rock You and will now be acting as 2nd cover to the lead role of ‘Jesus’ in JCS. Then there is Stephen John Davies who, as standby cover, played the title role in The Phantom of the Opera for its 10,000th performance and recently played ‘Captain Brackett’ in South Pacific both on tour and in the West End, before joining JCS as 1st cover to the role of Pilate. Then there’s Brian McCann who, after having previously toured with The Rocky Horror Show as ‘Riff Raff’ and covered/played leading roles in We Will Rock You, The Phantom of the Opera and Jerry Springer – The Opera, is now coming to be the 1st cover to the role of ‘Annas’. There’s also Rhiannon S. Porter who was covered/played ‘Fantine’ in the 25th anniversary tour of Les Miserables and is now the 2nd cover to ‘Mary Magdalene’ and ‘Soul Girl’ cover too.
Forster may have been the one to scoop the thorned crown of ‘Jesus’ on Superstar, but two of the show’s other finalists who missed out on the role have found their way into the ensemble instead. Jeff Anderson and Tim Prottey-Jones will also be joining the company of Jesus Christ Superstar, performing in the ensemble and covering two of the musical’s principal roles: Anderson will be Forster’s ‘Jesus’ understudy while Prottey-Jones is to cover Minchin in the role of ‘Judas’. The rest of the ensemble includes Michelle Antrobus, Jack Booth, Alice Capitani, Leon Craig, Krysten Cummings, Christos Dante, Keisher Downie, Ffion Emyr, Lily Frazer, Ryan Gibb, Zoe Green, Bob Harms, Clare Ivory, Sam Jackson, Jack Jefferson, Sia Kiwa, Antony Lawrence, Leon Maurice-Jones, Alana Murrin, Tim Newman, Tom Parsons, Adam Pritchard, Gala Robles, Lucas Rush, Benedict Smith, Russell Smith, Phil Snowden, Adam Strong, Ali Temple, John Tsouras, Alex Tucker, Marie Walker, Russell Walker and Karlene Wray.
The Superstar show and celebrity castings have garnered the Jesus Christ Superstar arena tour a lot of attention so far and that attention has been sometimes positive and sometimes negative, but it has certainly got people talking. September 21st is not so far away, so when it does get here, I think it’s going to be very interesting to see what is said once people have actually seen the full company in action.
By Julie Robinson (@missjulie25)
Thursday 23rd August 2012