BWW Review: JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, Barbican
It's fair to say that the concept of Jesus Christ Superstar is pretty bizarre. It's a sung-through rock opera about the son of God. The book abbreviates Jesus Christ to 'JC' on more than one occasion, and the Bible's leading men are often sexy. With this show, there will always be a fine line to tread between the ridiculous and glorious.
It was the 2016 Regent's Park production that landed Jesus its first Olivier Award, for Best Theatre Revival. It's this version that has now made its way to the Barbican and (sorry, not sorry): THANK HEAVENS.
There isn't one aspect of the show that is not in harmony with the next. Director Timothy's Sheader's sleek, contemporary vision echoes through every creative element. Tom Scutt's design, a structure of beams, unifies its industrial feel with Lee Curran's lighting, which takes the term 'mood lighting' to transcendental levels. Drew McOnie choreographs breathtaking dance and movement sequences for the ensemble, who are an astounding hive mind of actors.
This Jesus Christ Superstar is so stylish. Water into wine aside, the real miracle is that it manages to maintain a 21st-century edge without losing the heart of the musical: the 1970s-rock vibe. The harmonies and orchestrations are revived, but familiar, which upholds a nostalgia for the well-loved 1970 concept album that paved the way for the show.
There are songs in the musical which I would have thought impossible to bring down a few pegs in terms of melodrama. Yet Sallay Garnett as Mary Magdalene takes "I Don't Know How to Love Him" and marries its musical theatre charm with the aura of contemporary soul artists (Lianne la Havas came to mind). Garnett's portrayal of Mary is innovative and exciting.
Just see the show. Really. It's a heavenly balance of everything that can make contemporary musicals so great. It's even worth it just to see how Robert Tripolino, as Jesus, manages to keep the anguish of the narrative at the forefront when glitter is being used to depict violence. Remarkable!
Jesus Christ Superstar at the Barbican until 24 August
Photo by Johan Persson