Timothy Sheader's Olivier winning production from Regent's Park rides into the Barbican better than ever...
“They think they’ve found the new Messiah.
And they’ll hurt you when they find they’re wrong.”
Judas, from the song – “Heaven on Their Minds”
Note: This is the review of the Open Air’s Jesus Christ Superstar from Summer 2019 at the Barbican.
It was my absolute favourite musical of 2016, and I saw it twice at the Open Air in Regent’s Park. I returned in 2017 and was a tad disappointed as I thought the choreography had lost some of its edge. But at the Barbican Theatre in 2019, it is as thrilling as ever.
What I was most apprehensive about, I needn’t have been concerned, because the transfer to the indoor Barbican Theatre has worked well. The iron grid set and dominant cross is the same with the rock group and the band at different corners, and even some trees set up there to remind us of the park. What we lost in fireworks, literally flares, we have gained in spectacular lighting without having to wait for dusk.
On seeing the first time, it was the expressive choreography that blew me away and Drew McOnie is back in charge here. There is a new scene to do with Herod’s excessively lush gold train when dancers cavort, their heads appearing from bloodied plates worn like ruffs, and their tunics spattered with blood. Are these the reminder of the cruel regime Herod ruled over and the Slaughter of the Innocents when he tried to get the predicted king killed? Or of Salome and John the Baptist?
The clearing out of the traders in the temple is brilliantly lit and designed with the sales of religious artefacts, multiple crosses, golden and lit. The scourging of Jesus too is spectacular and clever with each crack of the whip illustrated with a shower of silver and gold as the mob turn on their saviour.
We see Jesus under pressure to perform miracles and feel his exhaustion at trying to help so many.
The big new star for me is Sallay Garnett as Mary Magdalen. Her voice is clear and pure and she has some of the best tunes in the show. Dressed ornately in Turkish trousers and with many plaits, some piled on the top of her head, she looks Middle Eastern and as beautiful as she sounds. I liked Judas too. Of course Tyrone Huntley was a very hard act to live up to but Ricardo Afonso is strong as the man who starts with sincerity.
Caiaphas is back with his deep brown register, although with no sunglasses, and Nathan Amzi as Annas is also very strong with a great voice and presence. The priests and rabbis move exquisitely turning their pose with staffs into a rock band. This time I liked Matt Cardle as Pilate who tried, but not hard enough, for Jesus to be pardoned. The bass guitar (Phil Donnelly) leads the rock numbers which are exciting.
Robert Tripolino as Jesus has a good singing voice although I believed more in Declan Bennett’s quiet spirituality. This is a small quibble for the kind of show that I would jump at being asked to see again! Please will someone have the sense to transfer this to the West End? The production has proved that it can be as successful indoors so what are you waiting for?
Heaven On Their Minds
What’s The Buzz
Strange Thing, Mystifying
This Jesus Might Die
Simon Zealotes / Poor Jerusalam
Everything’s Alright (Reprise)
I Don’t Know How To Love Him
Damned For All Time / Blood Money
The Last Supper
Pilate and Christ / Herod’s Song
Could We Start Again, Please?
Trial by Pilate / 39 Lashes
Jesus Christ Superstar
Lyrics by Tim Rice
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Directed by Timothy Sheader
Choreographed by Drew McOnie
Director: Timothy Sheader
Choreographer: Drew McOnie
Designer: Tom Scutt
Musical Supervisor: Tom Deering
Lighting Designer: Lee Curran
Sound Designer: Nick Lidster for Autograph
Fight Director: Kate Waters
Musical Director: Ed Bussey
Running Time: Two hours with an interval
Closed on 24th August 2019
London EC2Y 8DS
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge at the Barbican on 10th July 2019