Review: Jesus Christ Superstar. Mansfield Palace Theatre

Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Tim Rice’s Jesus Christ Superstar is almost 50 years old, yet still the powerful score sounds fresh and potent. Heanor Musical Theatre Company have taken inspiration from the 2012 Arena tour, in updating the storyline to the present day. Using multi-media digital projections, a roving camera, and quotes from social media feeds, the show becomes part of the information age and this serves to heighten the immediacy of the story.

HMTC have gathered some very compelling singers to tackle the ambitious score, and they all seem to relish the challenge. The role of Jesus is particularly demanding, with a crazy high falsetto required and a huge range of emotion to be expressed. Tom Lucking takes the lead here with great vocal control and seems to hit the high notes with ease. His ‘bete noir’, Judas, is played by Andy Quinn, whose wonderfully powerful voice is rich and expressive, and who inhabits the role from the start.

Further strong voices are found amongst Jesus’ followers. Alana Moran is a feisty, young Mary, making ‘I Don’t Know How to Love Him’ more of a question than a reflection, and responding with much attitude to Judas’s negativity. Simon, the rebel in the ranks, is played with great energy by Andrew Buxton, who has a singing voice with depth and compelling authority. Just a shame he doesn’t get to sing more in this show.

Some of the characterisation is particularly gratifying in some of the ancillary roles. Kheenan Jones as Caiaphas and Adela Green as his right hand woman, Annas, are entirely convincing as the manipulative Pharisees, determined to kill Jesus to further their own ends. Both also sing splendidly, with wonderfully murderous conviction. The more moderate Pilate is anxious to see justice done but unwilling to take responsibility for it. In just a few short scenes, Paul Mills sculpts this character, and the lovely warm tones of his voice are perfectly suited to ‘Pilate’s Dream’. Herod is the ‘light relief’ of the show, always presented as decadent and flamboyant, and in Matt Powell, they have hit the rainbow-coloured bulls eye. Part chat show host, part Julian Clary mince, he takes camp to a whole new level.

It’s a hugely demanding score for an MD and Charlotte Daniels has just five band members to work with, and achieves a well balanced sound. The solo appearance of Owen Jones on stage to play the occasional guitar riff adds to the rock atmosphere. The larger ensemble numbers have bags of energy and movement, and result in a relaxed, confident performance from everyone.

In choosing to update the storyline to a more modern setting, Director Paul Young has pushed the boundaries of one of the best-loved modern musicals. In the most part, it works, as the present day setting makes the characters and attitudes resonate with our lives today and perhaps allows us to draw parallels to the current world of politics, media manipulation and power controlled by the rich. There is something lost in the story-telling though. It is not always clear who the ‘rabble’ are or why they are supporting Jesus – or later, calling for his crucifixion. I suppose the familiarity of the original bible story is just easier to ‘read’.

Jesus Christ Superstar was originally written as a concept album, and the focus in HMTC’s production is firmly where it should be – in the music. You are unlikely to find a more talented bunch of singers, able to tackle such an imposing score with finesse. This is the buzz, and Mansfield Palace Theatre is where it’s happening!

Photos credit Chris Clarke

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