The Show Goes On: Jesus Christ Superstar socially distanced at the Open Air
“I’ve been living to see you.
Dying to see you . . . “
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!”
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 – The Concert
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics by Tim Rice
Directed by Timothy Sheader
Choreographed by Drew McOnie
Declan Bennett or Pepe Nufrio
Tyrone Huntley or Ricardo Afonso
Anoushcka Lucas or Maimuna Memon
Ivan de Freitas
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
Running Time: One hour 40 minutes without an interval
Booking until 27th September 2020
Open Air Theatre
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