Review: Jesus Christ Superstar is on stage at the Ipswich Regent this week
SuffolkNews reviews Jesus Christ Superstar, at the Ipswich Regent
What’s the buzz? I’ll tell you what’s happening – Jesus Christ Superstar is on stage at the Ipswich Regent until Saturday.
Told entirely through song, the 1970s rock opera by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber focusses on the last days of Jesus as seen through the eyes of Judas Iscariot.
The musical explores the relationships and struggles between Jesus, Judas, Mary Magdalene, his disciples, followers and the Roman Empire – with several standout songs thrown into the mix.
Jesus Christ Superstar has been performed across the globe in countless productions since its 1971 Broadway debut, and this latest version – first staged at Regents Park – must be up there with the very best.
And so there was an expectant buzz at the Regent ahead of Monday’s opening night – and that buzz was soon realised as the house lights dimmed and the guitar-heavy rock overture kicked in.
Soon Judas (Shem Omari James) was setting the scene with Heaven on their Minds, before the ensemble was asking Jesus What’s the Buzz?, with high-energy slick and synchronised choreography.
From that moment – particularly in act one at least – it felt like a frantic and relentless build up of pressure as we spectated the final days of Jesus.
We were given time to breathe with the silken tones of Mary Magdalene (an impressive performance from Hannah Richardson) before the musical’s sinister undertones came to the fore in This Jesus Must Die.
Matt Bateman and Jad Habchi were imposing as plotting priests Annas and Caiaphas. The staging and choreography of their appearances was surprising and effective, transitioning into slick synchronised movement akin to that of a boy band as they devised Jesus’ downfall.
As act one progressed we saw Judas strike his deal to betray Jesus and heard more from the errant disciple.
I have always found the Judas role challenging to watch as it can come across as purely angry and bitter, with little of his inner turmoil conveyed. And so it was with Shem Omari James’ portrayal, although there were some lighter moments which came as a welcome relief.
Meanwhile, Ian McIntosh as Jesus gave a stand out performance – particularly as act two progressed. His version of Gethsemane, which must be one of the most challenging songs in any musical, was impressive and I was not disappointed by his vocal and emotional delivery.
I also found Ryan O’Donnell compelling as Pilate, performing some of my favourite numbers from the score with depth.
The set certainly had the wow factor with a raked cross, trees in the background and scaffolding offering different heights and a home for the on-stage live band.
Meanwhile, costumes were a stunning blend of earthy tones and layers, with fabulous use of floaty harem pants for the women. These contrasted wildly with the flamboyant golden cape and high-heeled boots sported by Herod later in act two.
By the time Herod had sent Jesus back for Trial by Pilate he was a bloodied mess, however the torture of 39 lashes saw gold glitter thrown at his back, sticking to the blood and creating a shimmering disco ball effect on the costumes of the ensemble stood around him.
After 90 minutes of building pressure, the performance of Superstar and the very moving Crucifixion almost came as a relief – with the audience giving a well-deserved standing ovation after the closing notes.
The best theatre is thought-provoking and challenging and Jesus Christ Superstar certainly lives up to this. It is also an exhilarating and dynamic performance full of energy and talent – don’t miss it.