REVIEW: Jesus Christ Superstar: until Saturday, March 29, 2014
01:50 26 March 2014
Candia McKormack reviews the opening night of Jesus Christ Superstar at Gloucester Cathedral
Gloucester Cathedral has given me some wonderful experiences over the years – breathtaking acrobatics by an Australian circus group for ‘How Like an Angel’; heart-achingly beautiful harmonies from the Mediaeval Baebes at the Winter Solstice; frighteningly beautiful sculptures as part of the Crucible exhibition; and the pure, unadulterated wonder of standing in the empty nave and cloisters and listening to the stories the ancient stone walls have to tell. And all this from someone who doesn’t ‘do’ religion.
The latest experience the Cathedral has offered up is in the form of tonight’s performance of Jesus Christ Superstar. As the Gloucester Operatic and Dramatic Society is celebrating its centenary this year, something special was on the cards, and blimey did they ever deliver.
The talented force of nature behind the production is producer and artistic director, Jerry Lane, who has pulled together something so mind-bogglingly ambitious that even he surely must have been wondering at one point what on earth he’d got himself into. The astonishing thing is that this is the very first time the musical has been performed in a cathedral and, added to that, it’s the largest production ever put on since it was penned by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice over 40 years ago.
With an orchestra of 70-plus members, the soaring vocals of Worcester-based Voices Unlimited and a strong cast of principal players, we were treated to a dynamic performance by nearly 200 individuals, bringing their own distinctive slant on what must be one of the greatest musicals ever written.
Although the cavernous Cathedral space is undoubtedly a joy to be in, it is also something of a challenge for performers, with a ludicrously long delay time, creating a chasm of difference in timing between the sound the performer makes and that which returns to the ears. This must have been maddeningly confusing, but handled beautifully by the performers, who wove their way around the audience, along the nave and into the heights of the organ loft.
The principal roles of Jesus (Jon Moses), Judas Iscariot (Daniel Haslam) and Mary Magdalene (Ria Keen) were performed with great conviction and emotion; of particular note were the dizzying heights of the vocal ranges of the male leads who not only pulled off brilliant falsettos, but did so with such depth of feeling that it took a concerted effort on my behalf to unravel my angst-ridden brow. The tension between ‘Jesus’ and ‘Judas’ was palpable, and Ria Keen’s ‘Mary’ made a wonderful foil to the oh-so-male rivalry between the two ‘best friends’. Another standout performance for me was by Malcolm White, playing Pontius Pilate, whose voice ringing out from the pulpit was a joy to hear (incidentally, Malcolm will be playing the part of Sweeney Todd in a GODS production at Cheltenham’s Everyman Theatre in July). I also thoroughly enjoyed Tristian Dior’s performances, who went from portraying a guilt-ridden Peter to a completely faaabulous (count the ‘a’s) Herod in the time it takes you to say ‘born performer’.
As we all know the story of the last seven days of Jesus’ life, I’m in no danger of revealing a spoiler, but the startlingly brilliant way Act II was delivered – including Judas’ suicide and the crucifixion – is not short of a complete triumph. There was certainly a stunned silence throughout the packed cathedral audience… and I don’t doubt a tear or two.
With a beautifully played musical score, and emotionally-driven performances from the entire cast, I would urge you to experience GODS’ own Jesus Christ Superstar for yourself.
Jesus Christ Superstar runs until Saturday, March 29 at Gloucester Cathedral. Tickets range from £15 to £50 (VIP ticket, including drinks reception ‘meet and greet’, complimentary programme and best seats), and are available by calling 0845 652 1823 or visiting http://tickets.gloucestercathedral.org.uk/admitone/event.php?_evt=GC35