Jesus Christ Superstar continues at Blackpool Opera House until 14 March and then tours until 25 July 2015.
Star rating: 4 stars ★ ★ ★ ★
As groundbreaking rock operas go few have broken more ground, so to speak, than Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s second staged collaboration.
After Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and before Evita, Jesus Christ Superstar had to start its life as a double album before graduating to a US concert version and then onto Broadway before finally opening in the West End in August 1972.
Clearly it has made up for that initial hesitation and reservation since, and but for the odd anachronism, has stood the test of time in much the same way as Rice and Webber’s other shows have.
Granted the label ‘rock opera’ seems a little steeped in the pomposity of much of the 1970s music scene, but in this case it’s a pretty accurate description, with its operatic libretto (in fact a combination of some of Rice’s most effective, emotional and at times amusing lyrics) perfectly coupled to Webber’s often underrated ear for a good rock anthem.
Ironically then, it’s here that it also shows its age. We can perhaps forgive Glenn Carter for a time-worn lack of immediate charisma – he’s been playing the role of Jesus onstage on and off since 1996, as well as appearing in the 2000 remake of the show as a film. But it’s a vocal role still haunted by one-time Deep Purple frontman Ian Gillan’s first stab at it on those American concert tours.
Also no stranger to the show is Australian Tim Rogers who applies himself to the role of Judas Iscariot with gusto and considerable sympathy – though things get a little fraught when he and Carter appear to be auditioning for the same heavy metal band.
X Factor’s 2007 runner-up and memorable Welsh blonde baritone Rhydian Roberts doesn’t have too much to do as Pontius Pilate but does it well – especially when pleading with Jesus to defend himself. But then despite the TV talent headlines, he’s always had a great voice and can carry a theatrical role.
Fellow X Factor finalist, this time from 2009, Rachel Adedeji was indisposed for the second night of the show’s Blackpool run, giving statuesque Jodie Steele a step up from Maid by the River and Apostle Woman to the far more demanding Mary Magdalene. She handled the transition perfectly and her delivery of the showstopping ‘I Don’t Know How to Love Him’ in particular was as good as any this show has seen over the years.
Also begging for a greater spell in the spotlight is Cavin Cornwall whose bass notes as Caiaphas pretty much rattle designer Paul Farnworth’s impressively brooding set.
Obviously this is never a story to send an audience out dancing into the streets (not even with musical director Bob Broad and his band giving it their all). But this is where directors Bob Tomson and Bill Kenwright let Carter’s Christ come into his own. His experience pays off in a truly gruelling and graphic finale which leaves the upbeat title song seem like it came from another show, but reminds you what ‘groundbreaking’ really means.