Jesus Christ Superstar – Review

Jesus Christ Superstar: Ipswich Regent

The Regent’s Part Open Air Theatre Production of Jesus Christ Superstar arrived with a bang in Ipswich this week. This reimagining of the classic musical, written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, is modern, edgy, and powerful. The show narrates the last week of Jesus’ life as seen through the eyes of Judas Iscariat – not exactly an easy story for a musical! In fact, the show started its life as a rock recording in 1971, because nobody was originally interested in staging the Passion story as a musical.  However, the show has since become a worldwide sensation and smash hit, delighting audiences and critics alike.

This incredible production features a stunning set designed by Tom Scutt: the cast and the live band appear on a metal scaffold-like structure, incorporating a huge cross lying horizontally on the stage. It feels minimalistic and almost industrial, but beautifully effective. Similarly, the cast wear hoodies and emit a very “street” vibe – it was certainly the very first time that I have seen or even imagined Jesus in a baseball cap!

The punchy rock music drives the story and the drama home. This sung-through musical is awash with fantastic numbers that harness the powerful narrative, keeping the audience enthralled throughout the two-hour show. The live band appeared onstage with the ensemble, and they deserve huge praise for their extraordinary musical talents. It is easy to understand why the original rock album in 1971 knocked former Beatle George Harrison off the top spot in America’s Billboard 200!

The show deals with difficult themes, depictions of violence, and betrayal. It’s certainly not a relaxing watch, but it is hard-hitting, dark, and viscerally powerful – a reimagined musical fit for our times and the complex world that we live in. Ian McIntosh was utterly sensational in the lead role of Jesus. His acting conveyed every nuance from the fear that Jesus felt, to his disappointment at being betrayed by a friend. His vocal range and quality were outstanding throughout the show: the song “Gethsemane” was especially moving, where he grappled with his fate to die as part of God’s plan. Ian McIntosh is clearly a star, so it is no shock to learn of his impressive West End track record, including an Olivier Award nomination.

Hannah Richardson appeared as Mary Magdelene, and she was wonderful too: quietly charismatic and beautifully in character. Her heartfelt solo, “I Don’t Know How To Love Him” was incredibly poignant and superbly sung. Shem Omari James played Judas, bringing depth and emotional intensity to the role, and capturing the personal conflict and regret that Judas must have felt.

The ensemble danced and sung their way through this epic show with conviction. “What’s The Buzz” and “Superstar” were particularly energetic and punchy. The choreography itself was relatively simple and effective, rather than ground-breaking in terms of artistic ambition. However, the ensemble was fantastically rehearsed and possessed a rare and pleasing uniformity of movement quality. This becomes less surprising when one learns that many of the ensemble trained at the prestigious Urdang Academy in London.

The show moves from the “Trial By Pilate” to the scene of the “39 Lashes” and on, inexorably, to the “Crucifixion”. This production managed to deliver raw emotional intensity, drama, and passion in a dark and excitingly new way. The Regent audience were overwhelmed by the intensity of the performance and the cast received a well-deserved standing ovation at the end. This is a five-star, highly recommended show, and a wonderful piece of programming by Ipswich Regent.

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