Review – Jesus Christ Superstar, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

Tuesday 9 August 2016

18842_show_portrait_largeSome things you may not know about Jesus Christ Superstar:

It was the first show Phil saw in the West End. He came up from Wiltshire with friends to see the original London cast at the Palace Theatre. A theatre he is now unlikely to ever see the interior of again.

He recorded the original JCS album on his reel-to-reel tape recorder. A microphone placed between the speakers of his friend’s stereo. A household forced into silence for an hour and a half.

He typed out the entire lyrics using his sister’s Brother typewriter, bound the sheets with Sellotape and created a cover reproducing the album artwork using felt tip pens. Quite an achievement for a 25 year-old.

He went to see this revival at Regent’s Park on the night the show was cancelled.

Not because of rain which had blighted so much of the month. A few weeks ago Phil had expected Herod’s line “Prove to me that you’re no fool, walk across my swimming pool” to be a literal staging. It turned out to be the perfect evening for Regent’s Park. Of course it just would be wouldn’t it? The show was cancelled because of a power failure.

Just 3 announcements over the course of an hour (hardly TFL who bombard you with unnecessary information, “It’s hot weather, bring water with you”, “Steps may be slippery when wet” etc). The third one was to tell us that it was cancelled.

On the plus side we ran into Baz Bamigboye who tweeted Phil’s appropriately be-sandaled feet and sat chatting with him about theatre and the state of the nation and were introduced to the wonderful Sally Ann Triplett. If only Phil had remembered that she represented us twice at The Eurovision Song Contest. Plus the walk home through the park in crepuscular light was rather delightful. Not all bad then.

So one time they’d denied us. And on the second attempt Declan Bennett who plays Jesus was off. Hey ho, at least the forecast was set fair.

Anyhoo. Listen up everyone, we’re going to chuck a few superlatives in the general direction of Andrew Lloyd Webber.

It may help that we know the score and Tim Rice‘s splendid lyrics so well but we absolutely loved every minute of it. In our less than humble opinions it is ALW’s best score by a mile. And despite the odd guitar riff seems to have aged extremely well. Shivers up the spine on several occasions and not because it got slightly chilly by Act 2. Phil was a bit put off by the hand held microphone device, turning it, at times, into more of a concert staging, especially as they all had head mikes anyway. Phil hadn’t wanted to see a mike disappear this much since Michael Gove. But it was a minor gripe as the mike stands are sometimes used quite wittily.

We won’t bother you with the plot. It won’t spoil things to tell you it doesn’t end happily.

Set against an industrial girder backdrop with a crucifix catwalk cutting through it (design Tom Scutt), which should cramp Drew McOnie‘s terrific choreography but almost doesn’t, the cast wear a mix of contemporary (with nods to Israel in 4BC when there was “no mass communication”) clothing with a colour palette of drab. That is apart from Herod (Peter Caulfield, camping it up magnificently), whose outfit suggests Andrew Logan had been given a lifetime’s supply of Bacofoil and was entreated to create something outré for Leigh Bowery.

Then there’s the glitter. So much glitter is thrown around you have to feel sympathy for the cast. They’ll never be rid of it during the run. We could see it sparkling on them in the bar after the show. Poor things.

Billy Cullum stepped into Christ’s sandals with aplomb (his first time in the role we’re told) he sang as well as he suffered, which he does a lot, especially during the the thirty-nine glitter lashes scene and his funicular ride crucifixion.

Special mentions for Anoushka Lucas‘ Mary, Sean Kingsley working the audience with his Annas, David Thaxton letting rip spectacularly with his Pilate and Cavin Cornwall‘s Caiaphas saddled with wearing sunglasses, which must be a pain apart from on rare sunny matinées, but comes a voice that is richer than Lord Webber’s bank account. Phil lurked suspiciously near Cornwall in the bar post-show just to hear that voice again. The cast are so uniformly good that Phil can forgive them for the fact that most of them would not have been born when he first saw the show. Almost.

But it’s Tyrone Huntley‘s Judas that we’d say lifted the roof of the theatre if there had been one to remove. He’s the one to beat at next year’s Olivier Awards, just as Timothy Sheader’s production deserves to be the one to beat for Best Musical Revival.

Even more impressive was that against a brilliant and very loud band every lyric was as clear as a bell. The sound balance was perfect. And this in an outside setting. Millinery off to musical director Tom Deering and Sound Designer Nick Lidster. The people behind Groundhog Day should visit and learn.

We’d decided we wanted to see it again by the interval and our greediness didn’t abate by the standing ovation at the curtain call. How delightful to see Judas smile for the first time during the 2 hours.

Breathless with fulsome praise here. Worry not. Phil promises never to do it again.



One Response to “Review – Jesus Christ Superstar, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre”

  1. The sound is always perfect at the Open Air Theatre.
    I don’t know how they do it but they do; year after year after year.

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