O2 Arena, London
Playing at the O2 arena for just four performances before touring, this modernised, reimagining of Jesus Christ Superstar set in the world of is not one to be missed.
Designed so the story is set in the modern day, this version of the show takes the same beloved score and characters but reinvents them and makes them more relatable.
The disciples are set as young students or protestors, Jesus and Judas among them, with Pilate and the High Priest being set as government officials in suits, carrying mobile phones. Equally, King Herod is now an X Factor-style TV presenter and the Temple is transformed into a modern nightclub, the likes of which one might find in Soho.
Our modern Jesus looks just like you and me. He has a phone and he wears dark jeans. He doesn’t float around the gaff like a human glow stick and tell people off.
On paper this concept sounds sketchy, but in reality it makes the show feel far more personal, believable and up to date. If anything I would say it surpasses the original and is a key example of bringing young people into the world of musical theatre so they realise it’s not all jazz hands and bursting into song in inconvenient public places.
The casting is similarly clever, with three celebrity names who are sure to pull their fans into a world they might not otherwise be familiar with. Mel C is at home with her theatre training roots, and Chris Moyles is a good (albeit unlikely) choice for Herod, at least, this version of the character.
There is no doubt that Tim Minchin steals the show with his portrayal of Judas. His powerful voice is normally hidden in his normal comedy routines and in this part – so vastly different from his normal comfort zone – he simply shines.
Ben Forster the chosen ‘Jesus’ from the Superstar TV show was indeed the correct choice; his voice easily fills the arena and helps bring the show to life.
A large screen doubles as a way for those far back to see the action, but is also used as a ‘set’ with stunning visual projections helping tell the story. Images of buildings covered in posters links the action to modern news stories we are familiar with, such as the London riots or protestors camped outside St Paul’s Cathedral.
The consistent use of reds, blacks, and greys in the imagery, along with a powerful band that sometimes join the actors on stage to play, creates an atmosphere that rarely I’ve come across. It’s funky, uplifting, moving and enthralling all in one.
The overture is a powerful presentation of news footage of various riots set to the score accompanied by an explosion of lights, flames and riot police marching on stage. It’s such an overwhelming image you have to reassure yourself it’s not ‘real’ and scramble to put your face in your bag of sweets.
The 39 lashes scene was a particularly prominent moment, where a moving projection of a prison wall was gradually splattered with blood each time Jesus was whipped. This, along with Judas’ suicide and its flashing images of blood and death, was simple and yet incredibly sinister. It negated the need for a physical set and you didn’t miss one. The show felt just as complete with this method.
The crucifixion was the most memorable moment. With a modern cross made out of steel girders and simple lights joining together, it was superb. A flurry of red confetti was released as Jesus died; fluttering down, lit by a single spotlight. Simple and transfixing.
There has been talk among fans of disappointment as this version of Jesus Christ Superstar is so vastly different from the original production, but it’s an unfair statement when this is an entirely new version of the show not a reproduction. This reimagining takes nothing away from the original, it merely updates it. And what’s wrong with that? For a show to be immortal and live on into the future; this is necessary.
In a world where gadgets, technology, politics, and music are ever changing and rebranding these much-loved classics deserve to be performed in 100 years time when we’re all gone.
Tastes change and the original would not necessarily cut it with our future generations. They want to feel part of it, relate to it; not be smashed across the face by a sequined Bible.