Review: Jesus Christ Superstar at The Empire Liverpool

Posted on 25 March 2015
By Chris High
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In 1996, The Lightning Seeds, Badiel and Skinner wrote Three Lions with its catchy chorus of “It’s coming home”. Well, following its recent Really Useful production at Arenas across the globe, Jesus Christ Superstar – currently showing at The Empire Theatre in Liverpool – is “back home”, in the more intimate setting of a proper theatre and is all the better for it.

This speaking as somebody who has seen productions of this show more than any others by a country mile, by the way, and has it installed as The #1 Must See Whenever It Is In Town.

Superstar hasn’t been at The Liverpool Empire since2007, during which time three other Lloyd Webber & Rice mega-hits – Joseph and his Amazing Colour Dreamcoat, Cats and Evita – have been staged a total of eleven times collectively.

Yet Superstar remains a firm favourite with audiences and, judging by the reaction this, somewhat stripped back outing receives at the climax, it is worthy of being resurrected far more frequently than it is.

Glenn Carter returns in the title role – one which he’s played on film and Broadway – and does so with a fabulous verve and vigour and with a (dare it be said) passion that often defies belief. His seminal song, Gethsemane, reverberates through the auditorium like a juggernaut at full throttle to leave us breathless by its power, but it is his very stage presence that is spellbinding and so imbues his characterisation with all the more mystique.

As Pilate, while begging forgiveness for another obvious pun, Rhydian Roberts is a true revelation. His rich baritone, along with a combination of the artists poise and ruthless efficiency of the man charged with condemning Jesus to death, despite his reservations, is a true privilege to see and hear, underlining why Rhydian topped the Classical charts for ten weeks last year with his latest album, On A Day Like This.

Jodie Steele, covering for another X-Factor finalist Rachel Adedeji as Mary Magadelene, wholeheartedly grabs the part and embraces it so hard her performance begs the question as to when she will appear in her own right, particularly as her I Don’t Know How to Love Him all but brings a tear to the eye.

Cavin Cornwall as Caiaphas, Kristofer Harding as Simon Zealotes and – memorably – Tom Gilling as the ever camp Herod all turn in fine performances, on a set resembling a copper tanned amphitheatre laid out beneath a vast, circular crown of thorns sculpture, which twists and turns throughout, as the recounting of Christ’s last week on Earth through the eyes of Judas, unfolds.

And it is in Judas that, sadly, the show takes a bit of a dip. Tim Rogers, unquestionably, has a fine singing voice; his Heaven On Their Minds and Blood Money quite simply rock. Yet he is supposed to be playing a character riddled with self doubt, angst and torment at what he has been chosen to do, but none of this rage is ever given full rein and so the performance as a whole – by the time it reaches what should be the show stopping title song – is something of a disappointment.

There are other things, too, that dilute the power of this production. Without wishing to dwell on the gory, where is the fervour of a 39 Lashes sin blood, the despair in Judas taking his own life with a washing line and where’s the agony of Christ carrying his own cross through the Paparazzi disappeared to?

These are some of the defining sections of the show, but the producers seem to have said: “Everything’s all right, the audience will get it without them,” and have thereby dispensed with the spectacle these elements provide.

Does it feel dated? A little perhaps but, nevertheless,Jesus Christ Superstar remains a powerful, often disturbing experience that offers a far more deep-rooted resonance than any other Lloyd Webber & Rice offering could possibly dream of and will have you on your feet at the last for sure.

Jesus Christ Superstar
Liverpool Empire Theatre
March 23 – March 28
Directors: Bob Tomson & Bill Kenwright
Cast Includes: Glenn Carter, Jodie SteeleRhydian Roberts, Tim Rogers, Cavin Cornwall, Tom Gilling, Kristofer Harding, Edward Handoll
Running Time: 2 hours
PR Rating: **** Worthy