Jesus Christ Superstar – Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

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Jesus Christ Superstar at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, London. Picture: Roy Tan

Jesus Christ Superstar continues at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, London until 27 August.

Rating: five stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

The stage is full of smoke, a belching walkway and banks of blinding lights. Upon it we see pulsing, vibrant, relentlessly energetic ensemble work – one of the many fine things which puts this stupendous show in the very top league.

It is utterly compelling as they leap, sweep their limbs in arcs, drum their feet in magical unison. Drew McOnie’s stunningly original choreography creates a visual narrative so that  the rhythmic, expressive dance drama fully complements the feelings being expressed in words. The chorus work is a real tour de force in a show which isn’t exactly short of them.

Tyrone Huntley as Judas has a quality of stillness – arguably the voice of reason in a complex character – from which he springboards the anguish of later guilt. It’s an outstanding, beautifully judged and sung performance.

The central tension between Huntley and the passive, troubled Jesus (Declan Bennett) is impeccably directed by Timothy Sheader. The passage in which Judas and Jesus confront each other in a troubled, edgy syncopated 5/4 time, interspersed with the apostles’ conventional maudlin hymn-like chorus, is almost unbearably moving.

And later, after the interval, when dusk is evocatively falling in real life, Bennett, dripping with blood, quivers and twitches in agony and fear. His light tenor singing voice is initially gentle, occasionally cracking into agonised falsetto, or becoming ragged with pain.

Also noteworthy are Cavin Cornwall as Caiaphas, dripping with menacing, gravelly charisma, and Anoushka Lucas’ lyrical sensitive Mary. Peter Caulfied, as King Herod, exploits that delicious Presley style number to the full. Phil King, an actor-musician like Bennett, is strong as Peter, especially during the denial.

It’s an inspired idea to position the band in two groups 15 feet or so above the action, framed at the top of the two rusty scaffold-like blocks which form the base of Tom Scutt’s set. It means that you can see the instrumentalists  (led by MD Tom Deering) – in an arrangement scored without the strings used in the original – playing, for example, trumpet fanfares, poignant flute melodies and gentle keyboard reflective passages, as well as the accelerating twanging guitars leading the fabulous crescendo passages as the theatrical tension mounts.

But the real star of this stupendous show is the piece itself. Back in the 1970s they called it Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s piece a rock opera. I think I’d drop the adjective and simply call it an opera – as powerful and fine on its own terms as, say The Marriage of Figaro or La Traviata. The key changes for mood, the intricate driving rhythms, the complex use of time signatures and the sheer relentlessness of the score create theatrical magic which is almost second to none.

I’m not a gushy reviewer. Far from it. But it really is difficult to find enough superlatives to do justice to this magnificent production. See it if you possibly can.

Susan Elkin

Tickets for Jesus Christ Superstar are available HERE.

Readers may also be interested in:

Jesus Christ Superstar at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre – Exclusive images

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