Jesus Christ Superstar Family Review
The Bristol Hippodrome
Tuesday 21st – Saturday 25th July 2015
A new production of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR visits The Bristol Hippodrome this week, featuring some of musical theatre’s most legendary songs ‘I Don’t Know How to Love Him’, ‘Could we start again please’ and ‘Superstar’.
Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1970s ground-breaking rock opera tells the story of the last seven days in the life of Jesus through the eyes of Judas Iscariot. It’s no surprise that back in the day, the show’s irreverent attitude stunned audiences and shocked religious leaders, including Billy Graham. Well it’s not the obvious choice for a musical is it? Yet it opened in London in 1972 and went on to run for eight years, becoming the UK’s longest running production at that time.
I’ve always been a bit of a hippy/rock chick and the music along with the floaty costumes and straggly long hair featured in Jesus Christ Superstar transport me back to the seventies of my childhood as much as into biblical times! The well known electric guitar music cheers my soul. My nine year old points out the conductor, who happily bops away as he conducts, clearly wrapped up in the power of the music.
The set is impressive with a giant coronet suspended above.
It’s not going to be like this all the way through is it?
Asks my six year old
Are those walls going to go up?
Apparently not. The physical set alters little but lighting and sound effects are employed to add drama and demonstrate mood changes. A number of props come and go – some quite authentic in appearance, like the giant crucifix – others rather more incongruous like perspex shields, cameras and flash lights!
The score’s vocal range overall is broad. Calvin Cornwall sings (as Caiaphas) in an impossibly deep rich voice in contrast to Glenn Carter’s challengingly high falsetto! Rachel Adedeji demonstrates her beautifully clear voice as Mary Magdalene in the classic ‘I don’t know how to love him’. I enjoy Rachel and Edward Handoll’s (Peter) harmonies in ‘Could We Start Again Please’. Big catchy numbers like the famous ‘Superstar’ offer a sparkly visual display to match the power of the fabulous group harmonies. And of course I can’t omit a mention of the pantoesque ‘Herod’s Song’, which Tom Gilling camps up to the max, complete with swinging nipple tassels and the most sparkly green eyeshadow I’ve ever seen – a fun, lighthearted prelude to the horrors which will follow.
This is going to depend very much on your own children so I’ll share our experience and you can make your own judgement. Not surprisingly I have a good grasp of what my nine year old correctly points out is the Easter Story, but this is the first time I’ve seen the musical and it’s not exactly what I expect. In my head I’m anticipating the ‘happy ending’ of the resurrection rather than a strong emphasis on Jesus’s gruesome death and the events preceding it.
We all find the first act a little hard to follow, as this is a typical Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber sing-through with virtually no dialogue (unless you count the odd groan) so a little advance research and discussion about when the story begins and who the main characters are could be useful.
The second half is much more straightforward and more enjoyable for us in that respect, but we’re not prepared for the graphic violence which awaits us. Each one of the 39 lashes Jesus is subjected to is counted out loud, with the agony of every one clearly conveyed on his face. Eerie sound and lighting effects reach a new level during the protracted crucifixion sequence. A piercing clanging reverberates loudly around the theatre as Jesus’s hands and feet are hammered onto the cross and when he eventually dies in agony, a grisly greyish white light falls to highlight his lifeless face.
My sons watch this surprisingly calmly, apart from the matter of fact comments and questions from my six year old as the show departs from the story he’s learnt:-
He’s actually meant to be in a desert.
There should be three crosses.
Why isn’t he on a hill?
He seeks reassurance when the guard ‘stabs’ Jesus with his spear and a small stream of blood trickles down his ribs
It’s definitely not real is it?
At six and a half, he still doesn’t like it when the sound effects are notched up to a number eleven. He covers his ears during the loudest sections such as the thunderclap signifying Jesus has died.
In fact I think my Mother and I find these scenes more shocking than the children do. We discuss this in the car on the way home and while the boys confirm they don’t feel at all traumatised by what they’ve seen, they believe some of their peers might find it distressing.
Even though my six and nine year old enjoy the show and watch without flinching at the violence and having had no concerns or nightmares since, I feel I should recommend it as suitable for older children, perhaps 13+ rather than little ones like mine.
Featuring a list of classic songs, this is a daring musical, tackling the huge story of the rise to glory and demise of Christ. Shock factor aside, it’s hard to deny that it’s an impressive show!
CAST & CREDITS
Bob Tomson and Bill Kenwright reunite to direct Jesus Christ Superstar, a partnership that has seen them at the helm of iconic musicals including Evita (in the West End and on tour) and Blood Brothers; a show they have directed for almost 30 years, scooping up no less than four awards for best musical in London and seven Tony Award nominations on Broadway.
Leading performer Glenn Carter returns as Jesus, a role he has played in the West End, on Broadway and on film.
Australian born musical theatre star Tim Rogers (Judas Iscariot) made his UK stage debut 15 years ago. Tim’s musical theatre credits include The Man in Whistle Down the Wind (UK Tour and West End), West Side Story, Jersey Boys, The Full Monty, Aspects of Love and the title role in Jekyll & Hyde at the Union Theatre. Most recently he starred in Carousel at the Arcola Theatre London.
X Factor finalist Rachel Adedeji plays Mary Magdalene direct from the UK and European tour of Thriller Live.
The cast also includes David Burilin, Alistair Lee, Ed Handoll, Andy Barke, Tim Oxbrow, Richard J Hunt, Johnathan Tweedie, Cellen Chugg Jones, Michael Ward and Lizzie Ottley.
JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR
Tuesday 21st – Saturday 25th July
Evenings at 7.30 pm
Matinees on Wed, Thu & Sat at 2.30 pm
Tickets: £17.90 – £48.90
Concessions available at certain performances
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DISCLOSURE: WE RECEIVED TICKETS FOR THE PURPOSES OF THIS REVIEW. ALL OPINIONS ARE MY/OUR OWN.