BWW Reviews: JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, The O2, October 13 2013
Has Superstar jumped the shark?
I could not help but think of that vivid phrase as the crowd - surely a better word than audience for the thousands in The O2 - instantly cheered the man who won the TV talent show, as behind him scenes reminiscent of the 2011 English riots played out on a giant screen. They cheered too at the end of most songs - I was half-expecting cigarette lighters to be held in the air come the curtain, but no. I got to thinking very early on about whether the show could take on the backstory, the vast venue, the gritty urban aesthetic, the big video screen backdrop and the sheer volume of noise, music and voices? It couldn't.
At its best, the show's spectacle was impressive - the crucifixion magnificently realised, a much needed counterpoint to Judas Iscariot's lonely demise (which, unfortunately, reminded me of the mythical "Hanging Munchkin" scene in The Wizard of Oz). But when the spectacle is stripped away, what's left is largely a set of somewhat disconnected songs, mostly sung at ear-splitting volume, the singers' faces contorted in agony or rage (Chris Moyles' amusing turn as Herod is a welcome reminder that people can still smile, even if he favoured the Jerry Springer smirk). The best efforts of the camera operators, who brilliantly captured the performers on stage and projected them on to the big screen, still couldn't promote any connection between the actors, who rather gleefully scurried on and off stage between numbers
Ben Forster does a lot of labrador-eyed soul-searching as Jesus and belts out a very showy Gethsemane (that certainly pleased some in the crowd), but he never really convinces as a revolutionary leader nor as a lover. When Mel C sings, "I don't know how to love him", one's tempted to suggest that she change the words to "I don't know why I love him" - because little that has gone before has suggested so deep a commitment. Likewise Tim Minchin grimaces a lot as Judas, but, partly because too many lyrics are inaudible, his journey from disciple to betrayer seemed almost free of reasons.
But most people are not too bothered about problems in the musical's structure nor details of acting and singing - they're in the arena to see an Arena performance of a classic of English theatre. They won't be disappointed - though anyone landing from Mars and stumbling in, might wonder what all the fuss is about.
Jesus Christ Superstar Arena Tour continues.