JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR

Date 10th March 2020
Society Blyth Music and Theatre Company Ltd
Venue The Phoenix Theatre, Blyth
Type of Production Musical
Director Jackie Grey
Musical Director John Hudson
Choreographer Jackie Grey

Report

Author: Ken Allan

Jesus Christ Superstar is a 1970 rock opera with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice. It started as a rock opera album musical before its Broadway on-stage debut in 1971. The musical is mostly sung-through, with little spoken dialogue. The story is loosely based on the Gospels' accounts of the last week of Jesus' life, beginning with the preparation for the arrival of Jesus and his disciples in Jerusalem and ending with the crucifixion. It depicts political and interpersonal struggles between Judas Iscariot and Jesus that are not present in the Bible. 

In their programme notes, Chairman Maurice Dobson and Show Director Jackie Grey describe this work as an iconic piece of musical theatre. A work which this writer has seen both on and off the West End stage, and has also appeared in at this venue the last time it was performed in Blyth.

Taking into consideration the restrictions of the stage size, and the basic, multi-level set, this must rank as one of the best productions of this show I have ever seen, causing a standing ovation from many in the almost full auditorium at the end of their opening night.

It relies heavily upon its musical score, and John Hudson and his five-piece band delivered an assured performance from the stage itself; being tucked away under the steelwork, up-stage right. The talented and enthusiastic ensemble with their focussed, professional approach did him proud and were extremely accomplished in their rendition of a very difficult score.

It is always difficult to breathe new life into a hugely popular and well established ‘icon’, but Jackie Grey directed the action and choreographed the movement in a thoughtful, sympathetic and sensitive way. The dancing, chorus movement and use of the stage and set was very well considered and delightful to watch. It was also a delight to see a fabulous acting performance by the chorus. They remained attentive and involved the whole time. Well done all.

The part of Jesus was beautifully and sincerely portrayed by Matthew McGuire, showing his vulnerability and innocence, turning into frightening fragility as the piece unfolded. He sang well and has a great range. This is the first time I have seen Matthew’s work, and I sincerely hope – and am sure - it will not be the last !.

Liam Grahame Olsen as Judas was sublime in his portrayal of this troubled soul. He commanded the stage at all times with an almost flawless performance. His rendering of ‘Heaven On Their Minds’ being one of the highlights – and what pipes?!!! Wow!. Considering some of the people who have played this role in the past - both near and far – he has big shoes to fit into…. And he does… It is not surprising he is a very busy young man, having a talent such as his. A real joy to watch and to listen to.

Shaunagh Kelly’s Mary Magdalene was beautifully and assuredly sung, and played with sincerity and dignity. One to look out for in the future.

Charles Doherty’s voice and stage presence are both immense and of particularly high quality. His Pilate was extremely effective and also showed vulnerability and fearfulness, but very quickly flipping to fury at Jesus’s no-comment attitude.

David Patrick’s camp and extremely colourful King Herod was a superb distraction and one of the highlights of the show. I just loved the shoes and the tee shirt!.

There were some very nicely played supporting cameos from Russell Rafferty as the menacing Caiaphas, Tamara Wilson as the scheming Annas, Max Nicell as Peter and Graeme Sutherland as Simon Zealotes.

The walk-through set was fantastically lit by Mark Turner and his huge lighting rig, and the sound was top quality and well balanced by Jonathan Mellor. With very apt costumes by Claire Willis and good props by Sonia Hall.

Thanks for the invite and the hospitality. I think both of the Knights would have been pleased with this performance of their Work, had they been there. One very happy reviewer here – as you can probably tell !!!.