The Show Goes On: Jesus Christ Superstar socially distanced at the Open Air

“I’ve been living to see you.
Dying to see you . . . “
Mary Magdalene

Declan Bennett as Jesus (centre back) and Company - Photo: Mark Senior
Declan Bennett as Jesus (centre back) and Company - Photo: Mark Senior

When I booked to see Jesus Christ Superstar this summer I was expecting a concert version, a sung only piece, but I overheard at another press night someone saying it was to be more fully staged. In the event, it struck me as a recently re-imagined, exciting and freshly choreographed production to comply with the regulations in place for Covid 19.

You can read elsewhere on the review pages, the full reviews of Jesus Christ Superstar at the Open Air in 2016 and at the Barbican in 2019.  There are two alternate casts of the three main characters, Jesus (Declan Bennett or Pepe Nufrio), Judas (Tyrone Huntley or Ricardo Afonso) and Mary Magdalene (Anouschka Lucas or Maimuna Memon).

While the main Jesus Christ Superstar stage set is touring in the United States, it is the Evita set from last year’s Open Air hit which is in use in Regent’s Park.  This is a series of steps the full width of the stage. Drew McOnie, the genius choreographer has redesigned the dance on these steps and he has socially distanced the players and dancers. It is an impressive and especially creative feat to give to a show as thrilling as the Timothy Sheader/Drew McOnie one of previous years.  

The no contact rule means that Mary cannot anoint Jesus’s feet nor can the priests and rabbis stand as close together above the set, but they still spin their ceremonial staffs to turn them into mics. Gone too is most of the crowded temple scene when Jesus chases the market traders out of the place of worship. Sadly too we lose the wonderfully exact tableau of Da Vinci’s The Last Supper and instead, you will have to imagine that painting as if everyone had to be six feet away from one another.

This production runs without an interval and so comes in at half an hour shorter.  Part of the total experience is being back at the marvellous Open Air Theatre in its magical woodland setting after the privation of the lockdown.  The Open Air’s seating capacity at 390 is less than a third of the pre-covid 1256 so the audience are socially distanced in their bubbles with empty seats either side.  There are also seats on the lawn on site where a large screen streams the live stage at a bargain £10. 

In August 2020, I saw the original cast from 2016. Declan Bennett has a different emphasis with a very strong and powerful rock music rendition of the Jesus numbers, and, of course, Tyrone Huntley’s Judas won awards for his sheer physicality and self-belief.  Anouschka Lucas as Mary Magdalene has more intimate songs which are harder to sing from further away but her voice conveys real emotion.   I also admired Cedric Neal as Simon the nationalist leader of the Zealots, who resisted Roman rule, and his formidable voice in the number “Poor Jerusalem”. 

Outstanding is the vibrant dance, led by Genesis Lynea whose centre stage energy as the Leader of the Mob seems limitless.  This is the show which made me revisit Andrew Lloyd Webber’s rock operas for sheer enjoyment.  As Tim Rice said when he saw the 2016 Jesus Christ Superstar at Regent’s Park, “Not only is this the best production that I have seen of Jesus Christ Superstar, I think it is the best of any of the musicals Andrew and I wrote together!”  

Musical Numbers

Overture

Heaven On Their Minds

What’s The Buzz

Strange Thing, Mystifying

Everything’s Alright

This Jesus Might Die

Hosanna

Simon Zealotes / Poor Jerusalam

Pilate’s Dream

The Temple

Everything’s Alright (Reprise)

I Dont Know How To Love Him

Damned For All Time / Blood Money

The Last Supper

Gethsemane

The Arrest

Peter’s Denial

Pilate and Christ / Herod’s Song

Could We Start Again, Please?

Judas’s Death

Trial by Pilate / 39 Lashes

Superstar

Crucifixion

Production Notes

Jesus Christ Superstar – The Concert
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics by Tim Rice

Directed by Timothy Sheader
Choreographed by Drew McOnie

Cast

Starring:

Declan Bennett or Pepe Nufrio

Tyrone Huntley or Ricardo Afonso

Anoushcka Lucas or Maimuna Memon

Nathan Amzi 

Ivan de Freitas

Phil King

Genesis Lynda

Cedric Neal

Shaq Taylor

David Thaxton

 

With:

Rosa O’Reilly  

Elliotte Williams-N’Dure

 

Ensemble: 

Daniel Bailey

Dale Evans

Rosie Fletcher

Josh Hawkins

Stevie Hutchinson

Billy Nevers

Charlotte Riby

Tinovimbanashe Sibanda

Barnaby Thompson

Tara Young

Creatives

Director: Timothy Sheader

Choreographer: Drew McOnie

Musical Director: Tom Deering

Lighting Designer: Lee Curran

Set Designer: Tom Scutt, after the set design for Evita by Soutra Gilmour

Sound Designer: Nick Lidster for Autograph

Costume Designer: Tom Scott

Fight Director: Kate Waters

 

Information

Running Time: One hour 40 minutes without an interval

Booking until 27th September 2020

 

Theatre:

Open Air Theatre

Inner Circle

Regents Park

London NW1 4NU

Box Office: 0333 400 3562

Tube: Baker Street

 

Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge at the Open Air Theatre, Regents Park on 24th August 2020