Review: Auckland Theatre Company's Jesus Christ Superstar

  • Breaking
  • 05/11/2014

The Auckland Theatre Company (ATC) has chosen a fittingly anachronistic show for its festive season hurrah – not the Christmas story in which Christ is born, but the one in which he is brutally crucified.

One does not attend these ATC year-end musicals expecting a safe, conventional production and in that respect this Oliver Driver-directed spectacle does not disappoint. Jesus Christ Superstar spans all three levels of Q's Rangatira Theatre, spilling onto scaffolding that skirts the stage (in the round) and soaring into the rafters.

Unlike in the show's titular song, where Jesus' followers question whether he really is a superstar, there is no doubt that is exactly what Kristian Lavercombe – this production's Christ – is.

Lavercombe's musical theatre experience was evident as his voice, laden with his character's torment and vulnerability, hit each and every soaring note with strength and clarity.

Jesus' crucifixion is breath-taking and arresting, his final lonely moments case in sharp, dramatic relief to the adoration that surrounds him before swiftly vanishing.

Lavercombe stood head-and-shoulders above the rest of the cast. Although they were a reverberating powerhouse in group numbers such as 'Hosanna', individual weaknesses diminished many lyrically significant solos.

Laughton Kora (Judas) and Julia Deans (Mary Magdelene) are both talented musicians in their own right, but seemed less at home in the theatre. Kora, though committed to giving an energetic performance, suffered from a lack of clarity, which stripped the important first act closer 'Damned For All Time' of its pathos and sense of struggle. Deans lithely navigated through her numbers with her fabulously sparkling voice, but generally lacked emotion.

Richard Green's extraordinary, gravelly bass voice brought overlord Caiaphas to life with sneering delight. He was well-supported by Shane Bosher and Colleen Davis as his minions Annas and the High Priestess, who slithered and wove around the stage in fantastic choreography by Lara Fischel-Chisholm.

A cameo by Madeleine Sami as the camp megalomaniac King Herod lightened the mood in the second act and was Sami at her exaggerated, comedic best. But the hedonistic scene, while wickedly clever, suffered from trying to be too extravagant and instead felt messy and disjointed. The mass of gyrating bodies distracted from Sami and the lyrics of 'King Herod's Song', reducing the well thought-out staging to a random mass of bubble wrap.

Also random is the news montage voiceover at the opening of the show, which transports the audience to modern-day Middle East but makes no further reference to current politics.

There is also an unfortunate side effect of the scaffolding used to elevate the cast. Although it adds to the dynamic, immersive staging, it rattles and creaks over the music, rocking the seats below in an unnerving manner.

ATC should be commended on this production, which is overall energetic and brave, harnessing the "rock" element of the rock opera and giving it a good shake up. Despite its obviously grim subject matter, the party atmosphere is a fitting end to a huge, successful year for the company.

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