Never, in my wildest dreams dear reader, did I ever imagine a picture of Chris Moyles would greet you on entrance to MADEUP.LV. Aside from the fact it was the only picture the right size for requirements, after a night at Jesus Christ Superstar, it can’t even be resented (aside from the fact it isn’t Tim Minchin).
The Jesus Christ Superstar arena tour had received mixed, and some rather savage reviews upon its opening at the O2 Arena a couple of weeks ago, but tonight’s standing ovation proved the enduring popularity of the now classic rock opera. Complaints about sound at the shows in the Capital among other niggles seemed to have been ironed out, and for a change it was nice for the provinces to be presented with bedded-in production that had already been tried and tested with the big London audience before going on tour, rather than the other way round.
With the big tunes and a big cast, the tale of the final days of Jesus was given a modern day slant that worked well — as something of its time, shedding the 70’s hippy chic of the original and setting it among an Occupy-type movement, casting entertainment’s sexiest aethist as Judas and finding Jesus in a TV talent show, was quite inspired.
Ben Forster, the winner of ITV’s Superstar, holds his own in the lead very well. And then there’s Minchin. Australian musical comedian Tim Minchin has been a favourite of this site since he took our phone call to plug his show at Warrington Parr Hall in 2008. His arena show with the Heritage Orchestra was one of the best things of 2011. And look at him now; he is absolutely perfect as Judas, the intensity escalating as the show builds to give a performance in the second act that has to be one of the best things seen on stage all year. If you went just for him, you wouldn’t be disappointed (MADEUP kinda went just for him).
The paradox with this show is that nobody really wants to see a production like this in the cold, wide space of an arena, yet it was written for an arena. At times, the softness and dedicated passion for theatre of the Empire would have been perfect for this. With no wings as such, the band played hidden in scaffolding to the sides, and the backdrop was largely a film screen to set the scene.
The modern adaptation of an ALW show is rare and worth viewing in itself. In many ways though, it immediately dates, and for everything that impresses, there are as many things that fall slightly short of the mark. The multimedia all seems a little needlessly down with the kids in some instances, but works well for Chris Moyles’s TV show style slot.
Perhaps the voices irk the theatre purists. Forster and Minchin put the rock into rock opera, full of primal screams more akin to Kurt Cobain than Michael Crawford. The distinctive Mel C, who despite the awards to her name was never a convincing mother-of-how-many Mrs Johnstone, makes a marvellous Mary Magdelene. Her rendition of I Don’t Know How to Love Him was crystal clear and beautifully sung. Moyles’s Herod was surprisingly ultra-camp, but the DJ seemed to put ego aside to do the job, which was refreshing after more than a decade of all that ‘Saviour of Radio One’ guff.
A show that makes a non-believer see the virtue in Chris Moyles and a Spice Girl is a miracle indeed. Forster certainly has a bright future. But Minchin is the superstar.