“Jesus Christ Superstar,” the timeless rock opera composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber with lyrics by Tim Rice, has taken centre stage once again at Manchester Palace Theatre in a reimagined production that captures the essence of a global phenomenon. Originally staged by London’s Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, this production has earned acclaim, including the prestigious Olivier Award for Best Musical Revival in 2017.
Directed by the talented Timothy Sheader, known for his work in productions like “Crazy for You” and “Into the Woods,” this mesmerising rendition boasts an impressive cast. Ian McIntosh steps into the formidable role of Jesus, while Shem Omari James portrays the conflicted Judas, and Hannah Richardson embodies the character of Mary. Julian Clary adds a delightful twist as the flamboyant Herod. Choreographed by Drew McOnie, this concert-style production brings a fresh perspective to the iconic story, set during the final weeks of Jesus Christ’s life. With its legendary rock score featuring memorable songs like ‘I Don’t Know How to Love Him’ and ‘Gethsemane,’ the audience is in for an unforgettable musical journey through this timeless tale.
This is a production that packs a punch with its standout vocal performances, notably led by Ian McIntosh in the role of Jesus. McIntosh’s vocal performance is nothing short of exceptional, with a vocal prowess that leaves a lasting impression. His rendition of the figure is both emotionally resonant and musically powerful, setting the bar high for the rest of the cast.
Shem Omari James, portraying Judas, and Hannah Richardson as Mary, also deliver commendable performances. While they may not reach the same vocal heights as McIntosh, they bring depth and authenticity to their roles. James’ Judas exudes a conflicted intensity, while Richardson’s portrayal of Mary is marked by a gentle yet compelling presence.
One of the standout moments of the production comes in the form of Julian Clary’s Herod. Clary injects a delightful dose of comic relief into the narrative, creating a bold departure from the overall tone of the show. His rendition of Herod’s Song is a highlight, showcasing his natural charisma and talent and engaging the audience in a captivating manner.
There are some excellent performances from Ryan O’Donnell (Pilate), Jad Habchi (Caiaphas) and Matt Bateman (Annas). All of which offer consistently strong performances and nuances throughout the show.
Choreographed by Drew McOnie, the production adopts a concert-style approach, with most of the choreography reserved for the ensemble. The hardworking ensemble members contribute significantly to the show’s energy and impact. Their synchronised movements emphasise key elements and complement the more intense moments of the production. The ensemble’s dedication and talent are evident in their performances, adding depth to the overall experience and accentuating some of the many contrasts within the material.
Undoubtedly, the music of “Jesus Christ Superstar” takes centre stage in this production. The legendary score by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice is front and centre, often taking priority over other elements of the show. This focus on the music is not necessarily a drawback, as it allows the audience to immerse themselves in the rock roots that defined a generation.
Visually, the set design is striking, portraying an apocalyptic and timeless atmosphere. However, it lacks a clear spatial-temporal context, leaving the audience yearning for a more defined setting. The largely immovable nature of the set limits its ability to adapt to the evolving narrative.
While the vocal performances are a highlight, the characters, overall, lack emotional depth compared to the intensity of the narrative. Some narrative elements are lost due to the sung-through format and a lack of clear directorial choices. This results in a missed opportunity for a more profound emotional connection between the audience and the characters.
The production attempts to emphasise Judas’s perspective in the story but falls somewhat short, as Jesus remains the dominant character throughout. Achieving a more balanced portrayal of these two pivotal and contrasting characters could elevate the storytelling and add a much-needed dynamism to the show.
Symbolism and the use of props in the production are worth mentioning, with subtle details and clever contrasts, such as the use of glitter during Jesus’s whipping scene, adding a knowing darkness to the production.
In conclusion, “Jesus Christ Superstar” at Manchester Palace Theatre leaves a lasting impact, despite some shortcomings. Ian McIntosh’s outstanding portrayal of Jesus and Julian Clary’s charismatic Herod are undeniable highlights. The concert-style presentation, while musically potent, may leave some longing for a more immersive experience. Nevertheless, the standing ovation at the end of the performance underscores the production’s ability to captivate and move its audience. This rendition of a timeless classic continues to showcase the enduring power of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s music, making it a must-see for fans of the genre.
Jesus Christ Superstar is at Manchester’s Palace Theatre until 23rd September before embarking on a full national tour.