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Review: Jesus Christ Superstar (New Wimbledon Theatre / UK tour)

Review by Daz Gale


An old favourite has been resurrected as the acclaimed Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre production of Jesus Christ Superstar returns in a new form, touring theatres all over the UK. Currently returning to London for a week at New Wimbledon Theatre, would this second coming prove every bit as miraculous as its last life?

Beginning life as a concept album in 1970, Jesus Christ Superstar had its Broadway debut in 1971 and hit the West End the following year. Having been revived multiple times in the 50+ years since, it was the recent Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre reinvention that really breathed new life into the show, enjoying seasons there in 2016 and 2017, a transfer to the Barbican and a return to Regent’s Park in 2020 where it was one of the first theatres in London to reopen following the first lockdown. It now enjoys its latest incarnation, bringing its production around the country for an extensive tour. The show is set in the final weeks of the life of Jesus Christ’ through the eyes of Judas as the events leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion play out.


Like Jamie Lloyd’s bold reinvention of another Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, Sunset Boulevard last year, this production attempts to bring something new to a story that has entertained audiences in theatres for more than 50 years. While it retains the essence of the original story, its attempts to freshen it up and contemporaries it in certain elements created a raw and urgent imagination, which resonated with me more than any other production of Jesus Christ Superstar I had previously seen. Timothy Sheader’s direction and Drew McOnie’s choreography work together seamlessly to create stunning movement, carefully thought out and meticulously recreated with a clear idea on how best to retell this classic story with no shortage of inspired choices, playing on a relatively sparse yet effective set design from Tom Scutt, boasting a centrepiece to die for.

Unfortunately, the production lacks the same impact it had when it played out on the stages of Open Air Theatre and the Barbican, though whether that is an issue with just the week its playing in Wimbledon or a common thread throughout the tour, I couldn’t say without seeing it in multiple venues. While the inspired choices remain, the (for lack of a better word) execution doesn’t feel as precise as it should be and, as such, the impact is lessened somewhat. I struggled to connect with this production like I had in my previous visits, and while I still enjoyed it, it came across colder than I was expecting.


Lee Curran’s lighting design transformed the relatively dark stage, with a number of breathtakingly beautiful moments, illuminating Jesus and Mary in the biggest moments in ‘Gethsemane’ and ‘I Don’t Know How To Love Him’. It’s details like this that bring out the best in this revitalised production and show why it has gone on to have so much more life after its initial limited standalone season at Open Air Theatre.


Ian McIntosh takes on the role of Jesus, delivering a performance that at times felt understated as he came to terms with his inevitable fate and others portrayed him as a Rock God – two very disparate extremes which McIntosh navigated with ease and flair. As fantastic and versatile as his acting choices are here, it is his singing that takes this to a God tier level – tackling a number such as ‘Gethsamane’ requires a lot of skill and a vocal range that can take you to heaven and bring you back down again. To say that McIntosh delivers here would be an understatement, with a truly sensational performance of that standout musical number.


Shem Omari James’ take on Judas was a breath of fresh air in a truly captivating turn that played to his strengths as an actor and performer. In a complex characterisation which tapped into the conflicted feelings in Judas’ narrative, Shem was a true force to be reckoned with on that stage in a true killer performance. His vocals impressed from the moment he burst into ‘Heaven On Their Minds’ at the shows opening to his rousing ‘Superstar’ proving what a phenomenal talent he is and why he is surely one to watch in the future.

Hannah Richardson gave a soulful and sultry take on Mary, bringing the house down with a sensational ‘I Don’t Know How To Love Him’ with Timo Tatbzer taking on Herod in a small but memorable role and a mighty performance. Every member of the ensemble works as one unit, ensuring the stage is bursting with talent and nobody is at risk of betraying anyone else by failing to match their ridiculously high standard.


Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music and Tim Rice’s lyrics have clearly stood the test of time and, to an extent, they sound as good as ever on this stage. The cast regularly try to put their own spin on the numbers in a bid to freshen them up but at times runs the risk of overcomplicating the numbers with melodies at risk of being lost. With classic numbers such as ‘Everything’s Alright’, ‘I Don’t Know How To Love Him’ and ‘Gethsemane’, this is one of Lloyd Webber’s most consistent and greatest scores in his illustrious career and having an opportunity to hear them played live was almost a religious experience.

It was a joy to see this fantastic production of Jesus Christ Superstar on stage again. While the setting may not work quite as well as it did in its previous incarnations, even with a lessoned impact it still remains a sensation to witness. The essence of the staging, incredible choreography still impress at every turn, elevated by a stellar cast full of superstars who seem determined to blow the audience away at every given opportunity. The end result may not be completely perfect but I don't know how to not love it - Jesus, it’s fantastic!


Jesus Christ Superstar continues at New Wimbledon Theatre until 18th May and tours around the UK  until 17th August. Dates and tickets here.


Photos by Paul Coltas



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