BWW Review: JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, The Old Rep Theatre, Birmingham
Andrew Lloyd Webber's rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar remains one of the most epic scores in musical theatre. Since 1970, the production has enjoyed success across the globe, most recently with Regent's Park's hit revival - which transferred to the Barbican earlier this year.
Because of its technicalities and hard-hitting nature, it's a big ask of a youth group to deliver the show well, but it's a walk in the park for the award-winning BITA Musical Theatre, who are performing their production at Birmingham's Old Rep Theatre this week.
What is immediately striking upon entering the theatre is the set design. Upstage, a variety of colourful yet shabby camping tents are scattered, virtually beneath a huge laid-down cross made up of what looks like scaffolding poles. This is all static and remains for the entire performance.
This is the contemporary vision of award-winning designer Andrew Exeter, who has also lit the show beautifully. There is some incredible imagery created, and having the set and lighting designer as the same person greatly benefits the overall vision. Shan Nolan's costume design is also modern in its appearance with plenty of denim and distressed colours, which stand out on the sandy-coloured floor.
BITA founder Chris Passey has produced and directed this production and has done an extremely good job. The whole company are involved wherever possible and are all clearly committed to the material given. Passey also conducts the superb 11-piece band whose orchestrations rise up and out of the pit to fill the auditorium.
The Old Rep stage is quite square and box-like, so there are times when it feels a little overcrowded. This is only really an issue with movement on occasion because the cast are not able to perform full out. The choreography by Attiye Partridge, with input from Hamilton's Cleve September, is brilliant and every nuance in the music has been recognised and realised.
The company is made up of 12-19-year-olds, and it is quite staggering to witness the amount of talent on stage. The three leads playing Jesus, Judas and Mary Magdalene are jaw-droppingly good, but their performances do not detract from the ensemble cohesion present. Dec Foster as Jesus handles "Gethsemane" like an absolute professional. He has a great tone and reaches the top notes with ease. His falsetto is extremely pleasant on the ear and, at times, reminded me of Josh Groban. There were a couple of vocal breaks so I'm hoping he is not on the verge of losing his voice, as it was not due to incapability.
Max Eade as Judas commands the stage each time he appears with his exceptional voice, and he clearly has a huge musical theatre career ahead of him. He wouldn't seem out of place in a professional production here and now. There isn't much light cast on Mary Magdalene's backstory, but perhaps this is due to the fact that it's a youth show. However, Lorna Highley gives an incredible performance of "I Don't Know How To Love Him", and she has a unique folky tone to her voice. She would succeed as a solo artist in the future if she continues to hone her craft.
A great contemporary take on a classic production, showcasing extremely impressive local talent.