Review: Jesus Christ Superstar at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

A large fallen steel cross is found stage right at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre as it delivers a musical revival of a story that’s recognisable to millions.

Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rices’ musical Jesus Christ Superstar might sound like a religious gathering, of which it somewhat is in every sense of the word, but this rock musical is, well, like a rock concert, really.

See it like this… There’s vocal tricks, microphones always in hand and glitter bursting at every possible occasion — yes, the last one isn’t quite what you’d be expecting with this iconic story. But, by heck does it all work perfectly together.

Leading the way in the title role is Declan Bennett as Jesus. Cool, calm and yet understated throughout, you almost lose him alongside this cast of excellence, however, when his time comes during the second half steal Gethsemane, Declan grasps his audience and demands they’re every bit his.

Bloody, weak and somewhat broken come close, it’s a tough watch for many as the tears are wiped away during iconic Superstar number. And as he’s put up for all to see during The Crucifixion, blazing lights and silence haunt this sold out audience.

However, the star of this production isn’t that of Jesus, but of Judas — played by Tyrone Huntley. His soaring vocal ability, nerved acting choices and smooth break makes him the ideal man for the job. Never once without the entire audience on his side, his complex and brave choices in character and song make him the man with all the power.

But what makes this production work so perfectly, alongside the stunning setting we’ve continued to adore at the Open Air Theatre, is the rather bizarre use of modern yet period props.

Think of JCS and you’ll never imagine Roman soldiers use spears as microphone stands, a pop Mary Magdalene (Anoushka Lucas) with a cool edge or even replacing painful whips in Trial Before Pilate / 39 Lashes with glitter. Mix that in with Drew McOnie’s modern and enjoyable choreography and this 1970’s creation suddenly feels new once again.

But that’s not all. The creation of towering rustic creations flank a giant steel cross that remains on the floor throughout. And with baggy grey joggers and trainers for this excellent ensemble, you’re somewhat spoilt in things to love.

Sadly, all is not quite so ideal. Handheld mics do become a somewhat distraction, especially during the tender moments, and leading actors carrying a mic and stand off means character choices become less emotive and more amusing.

Fresh, inventive and bursting with glitter — the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre once again delivers theatre to rival anything that’s come before.

GT gives Jesus Christ Superstar at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre — 4/5

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