In the 1970s, there was no shortage of morally corrupting entertainments for concerned citizens to protest against. When Jesus Christ Superstar first opened on Broadway, it was greeted by pockets of placard-wielding demonstrators who wouldn’t have looked out of place outside a screening of ‘The Exorcist’ or a Sex Pistols gig. Fast forward to 2024 and, in our increasingly secular times, the opposite appears to be true. The Church couldn’t ask for a more powerful reminder of Jesus’s ultimate sacrifice than the current incarnation of the all-conquering rock opera, with a finale so intense that it’s enough to make even the most committed of heathens question their faith, or lack thereof.
Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s smash hit is now more than half a century old, and this revival from Timothy Sheader has been spreading the gospel across the UK in a year-long nationwide tour. Stopping off in Cardiff for a week’s residency at Wales Millennium Centre, it juggles diverse musical genres that range from widdly guitar solos to funky soul tunes that provide a varied if occasionally jarring musical landscape to a show that doesn’t shy away from its subject matter.
For all the glitz, glitter, and catchy choruses, this is, ultimately, the story of a man who is betrayed, persecuted, and sentenced to a slow, agonising death. Scenes of violence, torture and suicide leave the theatregoer in no doubt as to the heavy price paid by those involved, and these moments are heightened by powerful vocal performances from the central trio: Ian McIntosh as the title character, Shem Omari James as the apostle-tuned-bad Judas, and Hannah Richardson as the ever-faithful Mary. A stand-out number comes courtesy of Timo Tatzber as the maniacal Herod, a king who channels his inner Frank N. Furter for a cameo that finely balances camped-up theatrics with murderous intent.
Possibly the biggest difference between this production and its predecessors, and for me its greatest strength, were the additional elements of physical theatre and contemporary dance routines. With choreography by Drew McOnie, this is a high-octane production that puts the ensemble front and centre, their bodies conveying meaning and emotion that both complements and goes beyond the lyrics, packing the stage with crosses and palm leaves, or writhing in pain as if possessed by demons.
This is a slick and stylish production which, for all its modern additions, will surely keep the purists happy with some strong music and singing performances. Crucially, it doesn’t lose sight of the fact that this has been ‘the greatest story ever told’ for 2,000 years for a reason, and as the climax looms and the bloodied but unbowed son of God is hoisted aloft on a mist-shrouded crucifix, it leaves one with a visceral image that will live long in the mind.
Until Februry 3