Jesus Christ Superstar
Regent Park Open Air Theatre
21 July 2016
In the midst of a summer of variably air conditioned theatres, what a relief to bask in the midsummer night at Regent Park Open Air Theatre. The third of a quartet of summer plays, Jesus Christ Superstar makes its first return to London since the arena-rock version at the O2 in 2012.
The combination of the remarkable venue, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s infectious riffs and Tim Rice’s sharp lyrics means that production was never going to be a flop.
As you might expect in an outdoor show this was a fairly stripped back affair, with simpler costumes and minimal props. It is a sparkly production in many senses; not only does it have an ‘X Factor’ sheen throughout but glitter is used in place of blood.
The bright spot of this production is Tyrone Huntley as Judas; he packs an immensely soulful voice and is one of the few performances to really convey the emotion of his character.
Judas’ troubled and conflicted scenes with Calvin Cornwall’s gravel voiced Caiaphas were especially powerful (speaking of whom, it’s a shame he wasn’t paired with a higher voiced Annas like in most productions).
Despite the show’s title, this is really Judas’ show and Declan Bennett struggles to flesh out an identifiable or charismatic character out of Jesus. He struggles with some of the vocal demands of the admittedly tricky song Gethsemane, shying away from some of the higher notes.
Many of the songs take place using characters holding microphone stands. This may be a necessity (although I’ve seen musicals at this venue without them) but it does constrain the actors and get in the way of any sort of nuanced performance. It felt more like a concert than a musical at times, with precious little acting and emotional depth.
This is in many ways reinforced by Drew McOnie’s choreography. I am a huge fan of McOnie and think his work on Bugsy Malone and In the Heights is amongst the best in modern British musical theatre. However, this was almost over choreographed, making it seem more like a music video than a story to be understood and enjoyed.
For example, the supposedly menacing Annas and Caiaphas twirled their microphones like The Rat Pack whilst the vicious crowd at Jesus’ flogging bopped around like new Age hippies.
Less could have been so much more; I was looking forward to the song Simon Zealotes, a messianic anthem which was made for some high powered dancing. However, the large ensemble in a small space made it all feel a bit crowded and restrained.
However, there are some fun and quirky moments of direction by Timothy Sheader (particularly a visual recreation of the painting The Last Supper) and able support from a superb on-stage band.
Everyone should get to the Open Air Theatre over the next few weeks; an idyllic escape from the heat and bustle of the capital. However, this version of Jesus Christ Superstar isn’t quite so perfect; it’s glitzy and enjoyable but ultimately low on heart.
Jesus Christ Superstar runs until 27 August 2017.