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Jesus Christ Superstar

by Julie Houghton

It’s startling to realize that Jesus Christ Superstar was born from the fertile brain of a 21-year-old composer, Andrew Lloyd Webber, along with his lyricist Tim Rice. And it has become a classic in the music theatre genre since it burst onto the stage in 1972.

More than 40 years later, director Gale Edwards has re-imagined the rock opera for The Production Company. So many shows date after being an initial huge success, so how does JCSS fare?

It seems that time certainly hasn’t withered the impact and power of this show. Obviously, the story has been around for a couple of thousand years, so that probably helps the timeless aspect. But Edwards has put this production firmly in the 21st century, and it seems as relevant as it ever was.

For those like me, who grew up with the original, the magic and power of the story, songs and characters are still there, and hopefully a whole new generation of kids will fall in love with this charismatic story and music.

Most of the principals wouldn’t have been born at the time of the original production, and have been able to approach it with fresh eyes. The danger for those of us who loved the original and the subsequent productions, is that we will bring jaundiced eyes to it and indulge in the odious sport of comparison.

While in the early stages you do remember earlier performers like Trevor White, Jon English, Kate Ceberano, John Farnham, Reg Livermore et al it doesn’t take long to forget those iconic performers and let the marvellous performances of the 2017 cast take over and woo you into believing what they are living on stage.

There were some opening night nerves that made several characters rather tentative to being with, but once the cast hit their straps, there was no stopping them. While there have been doubters about the wisdom of casting Rob Mills as Jesus, anyone who heard his heart stopping rendition of Gethsemane last night would have to eat humble pie – he was magnificent and had me reaching for the tissues.

Zoy Frangos as Judas brought his powerful vocals and stage charisma to give us a fine characterization as the tortured Judas. My only quibble is that sometimes his volume was so amplified that we missed some lyrics – as the show is a rock opera without surtitles or spoken dialogue, lyrics take on an added importance.

Alinta Chidzey was a touching Mary with a fine vocal range that took us from soft and sensitive ballads to a harder-edge rock sound when she needed it. Another totally believable performance. Cabaret queen Trevor Ashley definitely brought his inner Trump to his show stopping number as King Herod, complete with sparkly gold suit. Former West End star Michael Cormick showed us the complexities faced by Pilate and he proved he still has his stage magnetism and a killer voice.

The ensemble sang, acted and danced their hearts out – they must all have been exhausted by the end of the show.

Kelley Abbey’s choreography worked a treat, and Kim Bishop’s costumes were stunning. Anthony Gabrielle conducted a tight ensemble that justifiably got a rave response from the audience at the curtain.

Jesus Christ Superstar is a must-see production, whether you are remembering it from your youth or coming to it as a freshman. Congratulations to Rob Mills for an a stunning performance as Jesus – the tears we shed for his demise, and the appropriate horror of the crucifixion scene will remain in the audience’s collective memory for a long time. Powerful stuff!

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