Fringe Online 2020
Directed by Laurence Connor, choreography Kevan Allen, Set Mark Fisher, Lighting Patrick Woodroffe, Musical Supervision Nigel Wright and John Rigby Film directed by Nick Morris.
Props Design Ric Lipson, Costume Sally O’Mara, Hair and Make-Up Alison Butler, Associate Director Nick Evans, Assistant Choreographer Lisa Jones, Vocal Coach Yvie Burnett, Keyboard Programming Stuart Andrews, Audio Consultant Robin Sellars, Musical Arrangement of The Temple Billy Lloyd Webber.
Video Director Nick Fry Video Producer Sam Pattinson, Video Creative Director Terry Scruby, Illustration Andy Potts, Lighting Dave Hill Warren Chapman, Shoot Cameramen Eoin McLoughlin, Arthur Mulhern, Recordist Grehg Hagen.
Musical Director Louise Hunt, Keyboards Peter Adams, Guitar Lewis Osborne and Fridrik Karrson, Bass Ian King, Drums Andy McGlasson, Percussion Dan Ellis, French Horn Tim Ball, Sax and Wind Kate Robertson, Trumpet Pablo Mendelssohn.
Streamed till April 12th.
Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s streaming his musicals on The Shows Must Go On YouTube for 48 hours continues with his second (official) musical from 1970, Jesus Christ, Superstar, as his contribution to the live-streaming festival theatreland has unleashed to all of us in isolation.
As Ben Forster takes on the title role of this 2012 film of the live-show musical revival of Jesus Christ, Superstar, director Laurence Connor has to re-imagine 40 years on how to render 1970’s rock musical contemporary.
It’s not that hard, since musical idioms haven’t altered so much since Lloyd-Webber’s genre-redefining melodic and thematic contours. Tim Minchin’s Judas Iscariot is emphatically the co-star. This is the best-sung, most individual and best-staged production of this musical I’ve seen. It surely can’t be bettered.
Kevan Allen’s choreography is a swirling precision of crowd-control, fed with camera-angles around Mark Fisher’s video-exploding set with Patrick Woodroffe’s lighting.
Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Jesus Christ Superstar portrays the story of the last seven days of Christ leading up to his crucifixion as seen through – mostly – the eyes of Judas Iscariot.
Anti-Vietnam and hippy sentiments by 2012 give way to 2011-12’s Occupy and growing climate change activism. Though Occupy faded its 2019 iteration Extinction Rebellion marks change; it’s easy to imagine that here.
Filmed as an arena rock opera, the performance features names outside the world of musicals: pop icon Melanie C’s Mary Magdalene; DJ Chris Moyles in his stage debut as King Herod. The overture and band are quasi-symphonic; it’s good to be reminded of Lloyd-Webber’s sheer orchestral punch.
‘Heaven on Their Minds’ breaks into Minchin’s powered-up warnings (‘they’ll hurt if they think you’ve lied’) and Minchin seems dominant with his riffing certain words, making the song his own. Foster’s entry a straight-up-the-line tenor soaringly answers with his entry – Lloyd-Webber’s original stroke – ‘Why should you want to know’ interrupting the dominant rhythm.
Judas, Jesus’ ‘right-hand man’ preaches peace and poor relief, alarmed at the crowds’ militancy. Jesus upbraids differently. Indeed you wonder why they’re still around.
This is where Melanie C’s lyric ardour – a strong dramatic mezzo – comes into its own in the first of her two big numbers, in ‘Everything’s all Right’ a real late-sixties feeling echoing sentiments in Hair. Tune in sister.
There’s different excellence in the thrilling bass of Pete Gallagher’s Calpihas and sidekick cut-through counter-tenor Gerard Bentall’s Annas: ‘This Jesus Must Die’. There’s quite a prophesy of Bohemian Rhapsody with its inky chorus. Gallagher and Bentall are superb – some of the most characteristic singing of the show with a mordantly comedic edge. Deal with Jesus as they did John ‘with his baptism thing’ – the very lyrics make you nostalgic.
‘Hosanna’ with its zany chorus is indeed Handelian with the previous artists interjecting too. Again we’re getting the Occupy vibe of 2012 mainlined in those far-off 2011 protests.
We’re also mainlining the balletic, ostinato-rich Prokofiev of Romeo and Juliet – especially with Caliphas’ bass counterpoint: Lloyd-Webber’s inspirations are various and repays his borrowing, even Prokofiev’s touch of humour.
Forster’s reflective ‘Poor Jerusalem’ and later ‘Temple’ is the first time we get intimate Forster. His voice confides, melodically spot-on. Alex Hanson’s first appearance in Pilate’s dream’ furnishes a haunting intro to his troubled role.
Simon Zealotes’ Giovanni Spano is a smaller but interesting role too, splitting the traditional Iscariot rationale – Judas the freedom fighter siphoned off into this marginal character, where Simon gets one solo, with a futile call to radicalism. One of the most striking scenes is the crowd of lepers draining Jesus till he shouts ‘heal yourselves’.
After a reprise of her first song, ‘Melanie C’s ‘I Don’t Know How to Love Him’ (based on the initial theme in Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor slow movement) digs expressively into the character’s vulnerability: we get a viral dose of harassed prostitute terrified at her vulnerability. Especially in her gesture – wiping off her war-paint with the same handkerchief she used to bathe Jesus’ head. The production’s full of touches like that.
Minchin powers up his equivocal ‘Damned For All Time’ treated contemptuously by the powers – a blistering bouncing-off Gallagher and Bentall is phenomenal.
The Gethsemane confrontation (’I Only Want to Say’) is a fine medley morphing to Jesus’ ‘They’re Waiting’. It’s another solo torch song as reflective as Magdalene’s. It’s close to the Celebrant in Bernstein’s Mass, but that didn’t emerge till 1971 – also the Broadway premiere of Jesus Christ Superstar. Forster’s rising lyric agony ends in a stupefying howl; proving why Forster’s Jesus is nailing. No wonder they applaud.
Even Judas’ wrenching ‘Why?’ is dwarfed in ‘The Arrest’. Michael Pickering’s student-ish Peter is a role you wish the composer and lyricist had woven more. But there’s a neat coda with Melanie C and Puckering after the denial.
Moyles handles ‘King Herod’s Song’ with fine baritonal patter – his show-host take of the original 1920s concept, so we lose the delicious ‘prove to me you’re no fool/walk across my swimming pool.’ Still we get a sinister twist on thumbs-down TV voting.
Melanie C makes more of the ‘Could We Start Again Please’ a less memorable number underscored with conviction – Pickering seconding her in a question-and-refrain solo-chorus.
Minchin’s apparent exit reprising ‘Damned for All Time’ is brilliantly handled, riffing through an operatic mad scene – whose typical conventions include fragmenting previous songs. Listen out for ‘I Don’t Know How to Love Him’ and other pieces twisted into his clenched sprach diction. As well as pulsing guitars and unaccompanied chorus.
Hanson in Pilate’s underrated role – again freighted with sprach – lends agonized potency, a last crucial interaction. It’s dramatically telling, Pilate pleading with Jesus to exculpate himself, whilst intense reverse pressure is applied on Pilate by a choral baying Forster and Hanson work against. Hanson’s hand-washing’s blistering.
In the ‘Superstar’ reprise leading to the Crucifixion there’s a scintillating jazz piano riff playing under the texture till the wonderful ’I Only Want to Say’ wafts in making the composer’s intentions clear. It’s breathtaking in a humanist as well as religious agon. A touch of the St Matthew Passion in the way Lloyd-Webber moulds this is earned here.
Whilst Forster and Minchin justly take joint plaudits Melanie C is rightly invited to make a trio: each make their roles their own, with cut-through diction – something you can say for several of the cast including Gallagher and Bentall.
This sovereign production is unlikely to be equalled for the foreseeable. It shows too how over forty years Lloyd Webber’s own musical interpretation expands to allow top-spins and in Minchin, someone who moulds and reinvents grace-notes.
The cast also includes Jeff Anderson, Michael Antrobus, Jack Booth, Alice Capitani, Ian Carlyle, Leon Craig, Krysten cummings, Christos Dante, Stephen John Davids, Keisher Downie, Fion Emyr, Lily Frazer, Ryan Gibb, Zoe Green, Bob Harms, Clare Ivory, Samantha Jackson, Jack Jefferson, Sia Kiwa, Antony Lawrence, Leo Maurice-Jones, Brian McCann, Alah Murrin, Tim Newman, Tom Parsons, Rhiannon Porter, Adam Pritchard, Tim Prottey-Jones, Gala Robles, Lucas Rush, Benedict Smith, Russell Smith, Phil Snowden, Adam strong, Ali Temple, Jon Tsouras, Alex Tucker, Marie walker, Russell walker, Karlene Wray.