Lockdown theatre review: Jesus Christ Superstar (2012 Arena Tour)

Jesus Christ Superstar takes to the “rock’n’roll” arena. It isn’t good.

“Why waste your breath moaning at the crowd?
Nothing can be done to stop the shouting.”

Amidst the deluge of theatrical content emerging online, it can be quite hard to make decisions about what to actually watch. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s release of the 2012 live arena tour of Jesus Christ Superstar stood out for me as though I did go and see it at the O2, we were seated at the back of the cavernous space and so the opportunity to actually see what happened on the actors’ faces was enough to tempt me. Plus it’s Good Friday…

Pre-dating the Open Air Theatre’s revelatory restaging by three years, Laurence Connor’s restaging of ALW’s 1971 rock opera lays its contemporary allusions thickly (Occupy, Guantánamo, reality TV) but right from the start, you can see how superficial it is. A busy prologue full of kinetic energy references the Occupy movement strongly but as soon as the show proper starts, it’s as if it never happens, you could cut it and never know the difference.

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Review: 27, Cockpit

“The public will like whatever I tell them to like”

If only the public were so gullible… New rock musical 27 has nearly completed a substantial run at the Cockpit Theatre so I took my time to see it, knowing that many a show that has described itself as a rock musical has proven not to be my cup of tea. And thus it turned out with Sam Cassidy and Matt Wills’ 27, a mishmash of classical and modern myths that ends up something of an unholy mess.

At the forefront, just about, is the story of Orpheus, reinterpreted here for the modern world as wannabe rocker Jason (with a band called the Argonauts…) who does a Faustian deal with the devil for instant fame (see what I mean about those influences…) but ends up chasing through the underworld to rescue his girlfriend who has succumbed to a drug overdose.  Continue reading “Review: 27, Cockpit”

Re-review: The Commitments, Palace

“Why don’t you get out of my life and let me make a new start?”

Cast and crew members across the West End may not agree but I do find it surprising that more shows haven’t gone for the variation of Sunday evening performances in their schedules. Particularly with tourists, it’s a ready-made and captive audience with little else to do in this bustling city and by the looks of the Palace Theatre last night, keen as mustard. That said, it can be something of a trial going out on a Sunday night when a work-filled Monday morning is looming around the corner.

For me though, the chance to see The Commitments one more time before it closes its doors after a run that has lasted more than two years was enough to tempt me out and I’m glad I did as it really is good fun. Technically speaking, it is less of a musical than I would strictly consider, the narrative quickly gives way to a mini-concert at the show’s end but with music as good as this, and an actor-musician cast as talented as this, such crowd-pleasing antics feel entirely forgivable. Continue reading “Re-review: The Commitments, Palace”

Review: The Commitments, Palace

“The Irish are the blacks of Europe”

In the ongoing search for the perfect recipe for a West End musical, The Commitments has done better than most since opening last October. Here, a hot-shot director (Jamie Lloyd) has been mixed with material that has already been a book and a film (written by Roddy Doyle, directed by Alan Parker) and tinkers with the jukebox format (using iconic US soul classics) to create an engaging piece of entertainment. The main surprise comes with how little story there actually is – the premise is simply that young gun Jimmy Rabbitte decides to put a band together and that is pretty much it.

So in place of narrative twists and turns, we get the slick movement of Soutra Gilmour’s ingeniously inventive set design; instead of depth of character, there’s a wide-ranging songbook which gives everyone a turn on the mike or a chance to rock out a solo and thus express themselves through music. It’s a curious interpretation which takes a little time to really gel, the opening 20 minutes or so struggles to make its mark as there’s little music and the surprising thinness of Doyle’s writing is at its most exposed – for all the time Jimmy spends in his house, his ma gets an appallingly small amount to say. Continue reading “Review: The Commitments, Palace”

Review: Jesus Christ Superstar, O2 Arena

“Tell the mob who sing your song that they are fools and they are wrong”

Having gone down the road of television casting once again for one of his shows and quite possibly killing off the genre at the same time, Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s much-touted revival of his 1971 rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar will hopefully have the same effect on staging theatrical productions in cavernous arenas like London’s O2. Director Laurence Connor’s concept has been to relocate the loose retelling of Jesus’ last week to a modern-day context, pulling out strong allusions to the Occupy movement, riots, Guantánamo Bay and reality television. 

Tim Minchin’s Judas is the undoubted highlight of the show, a stirringly confident rock vocal of fierce conviction that near perfectly captures the essence of what Lloyd-Webber is trying to achieve but elsewhere there is much less strength. Ben Forster’s Jesus mauls Gethsemane almost beyond recognition but fares better elsewhere where his falsetto is more aptly deployed and his angst not so overplayed; Melanie Chisholm’s goth take on Mary Magdalene is anaemically thin and utterly forgettable; Chris Moyles’ highly gimmicky Jerry Springer-esque King Herod – he hosts a show called Hark! with Herod, a rare flash of genuine humour – is thankfully brief; Alex Hanson’s Pilate is a quality performance that stands out from a hard-working ensemble, but too often the wide lens of the show means that their efforts pass by unnoticed. Continue reading “Review: Jesus Christ Superstar, O2 Arena”

Review: Joseph, Churchill Theatre Bromley

“All those things you saw in your pyjamas are a long-range forecast for your farmers”

I don’t really remember a time when theatre wasn’t in my life. I was lucky enough to have parents and aunts who took me to see shows from an early age (indeed I heard Blood Brothers from my mother’s womb!) and so I caught the bug early. And of those shows that I saw as a young’un, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat is one that has recurred throughout my life whether watching Dad direct a school performance, being a part of my own primary school production, playing piano for both high school and drama group versions and of course going to see it multiple times at the theatre – I don’t actually recall if we saw Jason Donovan but I do remember Philip Schofield and Darren Day, whoop!

Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat has become something of a mainstay for touring theatres, it comes and goes from the West End yet Bill Kenwright’s tour has lasted for over 20 years due to its enduring appeal with audiences of all ages across the entire nation, not least this reviewer who remembers seeing both Philip Schofield and Darren Day. Latest to take the loincloth is Keith Jack who plays the biblical Joseph, a confident young man whose favourite status with his father does not go down well with his 11 brothers, especially after he receives the gift of a marvellous coat, and once banished from his homeland, only his dream interpretation skills can save him from a life of servitude. Continue reading “Review: Joseph, Churchill Theatre Bromley”