By Aaron Kelly
As the winter season quickly becomes a distant memory and the warmer air slowly begins to indicate the seasonal transition into spring, and the imminent Easter holidays, it is somewhat appropriate that Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s critically acclaimed rock oratorio ‘Jesus Chris Superstar’ reaches the Liverpool Empire theatre as part of its 2015 UK tour.
Directed and produced by Wavertree born Bill Kenwright, who has most recently enjoyed remarkable success producing West End adaptations of Evita (Dominion), Caberet (Savoy), Dreamboats and Petticoats (Wyndhams) and The Wizard of Oz (Palladium), Jesus Christ Superstar articulates the last seven days of the life of Jesus Christ through the eyes of Judas Iscariot; one of the twelve original apostles of Jesus Christ. The original production launched in the West End in 1972 and has continued to divide audiences across the globe ever since the controversial Jesus Christ Superstar album was released in 1972.
Portraying Jesus Christ for a second time in his long and impressive career is Glenn Carter. Carter most notably played Tommy De Vito in the original London cast of Jersey Boys and Jesus Christ in Jesus Christ Superstar at the Lyceum Theatre, West End, a role that he then played to great acclaim on Broadway for which Carter received a Most Outstanding Performance in a Musical Award from the Drama League. Carter’s tenor vocals from the first number were competently demonstrated and sharp as ever; he flaunted an enormous variety of range that perpetuated even the highest note (2nd f#) in the final number in act one, ‘Gethsemane’, right to the back of the gods! It was an entirely accomplished performance.
Opposite Carter depicting Judas Iscariot was Australian born Tim Rogers. Before moving to the UK in 2000 his credits included: The Phantom of the Opera, Miss Saigon (orginal Austrailian cast) and Jesus Christ Superstar. Rogers made his UK debut playing Tony in West Side Story (West End and UK Tour) and since then his career has went from strength to strength, performing as Jerry in The Full Monty (UK number one Tour) and Bobby in Putting it Together at the Manchester library theatre. Roger’s opens Act One with ‘Heaven on Their Mind’s’ where his character (Judas) appears upset, and despite Jesus’ many followers, begins to consider Jesus’ teachings a threat to the Roman Empire. This number served as a convincing opening to the show. As the production progressed Rogers continued to capture the fundamental drama and literature associated with the story, helping build the excitement that lingered amongst the contemporary audience on the opening night. His impressive operatic vocalism transmitted a superb intensity that made the stalls shake with his electrifying delivery.
The production was made complete by outstanding performances from X Factor finalist Rhydian Roberts (Pontius Pilate) and Tom Gilling (King Herod). Missing from the cast on the opening night was 23-year-old singer songwriter Rachel Adedeji who was cast to play Mary Magdalene. Although initially confusing, her absence was not missed as Jodie Steele confidently stood in as her replacement, delivering what could only be described as an exceptional performance as Mary Magdalene. Her character’s most notable number remains to be ‘I Don’t Know How To Love Him’’, arriving in the first act where Mary confesses her unconditional love for Jesus. Steele delivered first class interpretation of the poignant number that brought the audience to a rapturous applause upon the final cadence.
Overall, this sleek, modern production of Jesus Christ Superstar is a huge success. The cast, ensemble and musicians deliver on every note via a demanding score that entices the audience into the traditional Easter story, interpreted uniquely through the lenses of Judas Iscariot. The UK 2015 tour’s stint in the Liverpool Empire Theatre will conclude on Saturday 28th March and is surely not one to be missed on the run up to Easter!