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13th September 2023

Jesus Christ Superstar at Palace Theatre: You’ll wish the interval never comes

Blending divine drama with rock opera, this rendition of Jesus Christ Superstar dazzles as faith meets fame on the stage of Palace Theatre
Jesus Christ Superstar at Palace Theatre: You’ll wish the interval never comes
Photo: Paul Coltas

The story of Jesus Christ is known to most, even if superficially. Under the direction of Timothy Sheader, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical, Jesus Christ Superstar, presents a compelling juxtaposition between the celebrity and the sacrificial martyr Jesus (portrayed by Ian McIntosh). Throughout the production, Jesus is depicted as a figure of renown. He revels in his glory initially, but as the narrative unfolds, he gradually recognises that his purpose surpasses mere stardom. The heart of his journey culminates in the poignant song “Gethsemane (I Only Want to Say)“. Historically, actors have imbued this song with emotions spanning from heartfelt sorrow to outright anger. In this production, McIntosh conveys both fury and skepticism about the very existence of God. It feels as though he is confronting God with the powerful declaration “see how I die”. The climactic crucifixion scene makes you stop breathing. However, it also poignantly portrays the tragic fall of a superstar. Immersed in gold and fame, the stage transports the audience back to the day of execution on Golgotha.

Even if the story doesn’t initially appeal to you, Hannah Richardson’s (portraying Mary) captivating voice will undoubtedly enchant you. She vividly portrays the transformation experienced by “women of her kind” upon discovering genuine love. Judas, played by Shem Omari James, stands out in this show as the sole character who perceives Jesus’ deviation from his intended path. While others fuel Jesus’ celebrity, Judas strives to truly connect with him. In his effort to redirect Jesus, he inadvertently finds his hands stained with a “blood” he never wished for, leading him to a tragic end. Another character, Pilate (Ryan O’Donnell), grapples with the weight of his decisions. In this rendition, I believe his inner turmoil emerges even more poignantly than in the 1973 film.

Julian Clary, taking on the role of Herod, has the most pompous appearance. While the audience clearly relished this portrayal, I found his interpretation of Herod somewhat disconnected from the story’s context. It veered more towards a comedic solo act, somewhat misaligned with the overarching rock opera theme of Jesus Christ, the superstar. In contrast, Caiaphas (Jad Habchi), Annas (Matt Bateman), and the other priests make their entrance in a unique and intriguing manner. The interplay of their distinctive voices and characterisations is striking. Their presentation is so captivating, it feels as though you’re drifting through an amazing, rocking dream.

A special place in this show is reserved for the ensemble. They complement Andrew Lloyd Webber’s iconic music in a way that conveys the underlying mood and emotion of each scene, captivating the audience. Choreographed by Drew McOnie and led by Megan Bryony Gibbs, the ensemble is impossible to take your eyes off. Their rendition of the Last Supper is particularly spellbinding. In that moment, the religious dimensions of the narrative momentarily fade, emphasising its universal resonance. Even without prior knowledge of the Passion of Christ, the essence of this scene speaks volumes without uttering a word.

Without going into further detail, I would highly recommend this show to everyone. Whether you are a fan of the 1970 music album, fascinated with the movie, or simply want to enjoy a stage performance, you cannot miss this show, especially now that it comes to Manchester!

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