Jesus Christ Superstar review: Tim Minchin shines

Written by Naomi

I love a good story which has it all, and there just happened to be one showing this weekend, September 21–23rd, at the O2 Arena in London.

I love a good story which has it all, and there just happened to be one showing this weekend, September 21–23rd, at the O2 Arena in London. There was the arc of a cult following, (involving social media, hash tags, iPhones, and even the odd Spice Girl – I say ‘Odd’ I probably mean ‘Odd one out’ as in this one could sing) followed by jealousy, media frenzy, reality TV shows and a man being knocked off his pedestal and disowned by those who built him up. You know the one. About Jesus?

Yes, Jesus Christ Superstar was back in town 40 years since it first appeared in the West End. This time it was as part of an Arena Tour which will also visit Glasgow, Newcastle, Manchester, Cardiff, Birmingham, Belfast, Dublin, Liverpool, Nottingham and finishing in Sheffield on 21st October. That is a whole lotta shows in not much time – the cast is going to need some energy.

Fortunately the cast had just that. The superb Tim Minchin excelled as the troubled Judas Iscariot, with Ben Forster (chosen through a reality TV show – oh the irony) playing the title role. Mel C proved she can act as well as sing as she portrayed Mary Magdelene as the one time sinner who is redeemed by Christ. So what if this wasn’t quite how the New Testament remembered her – this is the image that has been ingrained in many a person’s memory and it works in this production too.

The Saturday matinee show started half an hour late with no apologies or announcements as to why. This could have stacked the audience against it from the start but we weren’t going to let that happen. A few Mexican waves later the show started and the bare stage, barring a rise of steps and a screen behind it, began to burst into life. It was later assumed that technical problems were most likely to blame. Yet immediately the show started the enthusiasm from the cast and musicians ensured this would be a distant memory.

The screen showed images of Occupy London and soon there were pop-up tents appearing on the steps like magic in time to the pounding rock music. Don’t be fooled though. I own one of those. Try doing it in a mud soaked rainy, windy field in the middle of Gloucestershire. God’s not on your side then, I can tell you. As for that music – it was proving very difficult not to be moved by the vibrations and very easy to lose oneself in the ‘buzz’. It was more akin to being in a rock concert than a stage show – which is exactly what Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice had envisaged when they first set out on this project. I could have quite happily got up and ‘thrown some shapes’ had it not been for the countless people around me who would have undoubtedly complained. The music was loud and the singing hit all the right notes… and Forster could hit some high ones. He would be a shoe-in for a Michael Jackson stand in; O2 take note.

In the second half Chris Moyles took to the stage as King Herod, hosting a reality TV show somewhere between Jeremy Kyle, Britain’s Got Talent and The X Factor. The judgment of Jesus comes bang up to date with a text vote from the audience as to whether Jesus is a ‘Lord or a Fraud’. Moyles can sing and smarm but I found his performance lacking in stage presence. He can certainly pull off wearing a red suit and a twinkle in his eye, but not necessarily acting on stage. If his calling to Radio 2 fails to appear there could be a panto opportunity whilst his fan base lasts.

As the show reached its climax there was a technical hitch which delayed Minchin appearing from above on the ‘show-biz-style’ lit horizontal bar of the cross. It meant removing the cast, including a whipped and bleeding Jesus (I’m not giving the ending away here I hope?) from the stage and delivering an apology to the confused audience. However it was sorted in five minutes and soon we were back rocking, quite literally, to Jesus Christ Superstar. I’d like to think the delay was caused by the mischief making Minchin having gone for a walk over the O2 and finding it took longer than he thought.

Directed by Laurence Connor this well told but up-dated tale works well as an Arena production, enabling it to greatly increase its following. I also believe that Tim Minchin is the real superstar of this rock show classic.