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Jesus Christ Superstar (Susan Elkin reviews)

Jesus Christ Superstar – ★★★★★
By Tim Rice & Andrew Lloyd Webber. Produced by Open Air Theatre.
performance date: 09 Jul 2019
venue: Barbican

Ricardo Afonso, Sallay Garnett and Robert Tripolino as Judas, Mary and Jesus and Company. Photos: Johan Persson


Since its first appearance at Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park two years ago, this show has done a season in New York as well as being revived last year in the Park. Now it has moved indoors at the Barbican. It’s been a fine production all along. Now it is stonkingly good.

For a start it has adapted beautifully to Barbican Theatre’s big wide playing space with the thirteen-piece band clearly visible on two platforms above. The atmosphere is electrifying from the first raw, twangy guitar tune, played by a single, hooded player who steps forward at the beginning of the overture. And what a good idea to open the auditorium side doors so that we could see the cast bounding down the steps in the light towards the stage when they first appear.

There are a number of star features in this show. Top of the list is Drew McOnie’s sharp, energetic choreography which has the cast pulsing in arrestingly rhythmic shapes – very much a case of What’s the Buzz? Each and every cast member is a skilled dancer and I have rarely seen ensemble work so tight.

Also highly impressive is the sparkling quality of the playing and band sound. Not only do Tom Deering (musical supervisor) and Ed Bussey (Musical Director) get a magnificent sound out of every player but the sound designer (Nick Lidster) has balanced it splendidly with great attention to detail. I’ve known this music for nearly half a century and I’ve seen the show at least eight times in various incarnations but there are elements in this version – especially from keys – which I haven’t noticed before and they are delightful.

Robert Tripolino is a truly charismatic Jesus – gentle, determined and unbowed. How on earth he manages to follow those anguished shrieks with sweet controlled tenor singing, perfectly in tune and beautifully controlled, I have no idea. It’s a terrific performance.

Ricardo Afonso gets all the right angst as Judas, Sallay Garnett is a gentle, attractive Mary who delivers her famous show stopping I Don’t Know How to Love Him with warmth and panache and Samuel Buttery is fun as the mocking, excessive Herod – gift of a cameo. I couldn’t always hear Cavin Cornwall’s words as Caiaphas but it’s a very minor gripe and he looks good in the role.

Then there’s the ending. Jesus Christ Superstar is described as a “rock opera” and the final five munutes, as played here, are worthy of any opera house in the world as the orchestra plays the final plangent, evocative, moving melody.

Definitely a show not to be missed.

 First published by Sardines:
Author information
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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