REVIEW: Jesus Christ Superstar, Opera House, Blackpool

The cast of Jesus Christ Superstar, fronted by Glenn Carter'Pic by Pamela Raith
The cast of Jesus Christ Superstar, fronted by Glenn Carter'Pic by Pamela Raith
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At first thought, a pumping prog-rock soundtrack doesn’t seem the perfect match to tell the greatest story of mankind.

But Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Jesus Christ Superstar is a heaven sent masterpiece and was something of a game changer when it was released in 1971, as a concept album before becoming a stage show.

It tells the story of the last seven days of Jesus Christ, through the eyes of his friend and follower Judas, as he comes to question the ‘messiah’s’ position.

This production, running at Blackpool Opera House until Saturday, does fantastic credit to the rock opera score, screaming synths matched by some serious falsetto on stage.

Leading the cast is the hugely experienced Glenn Carter as Jesus, who first played the role almost 20 years ago, and while that time served on stage is a benefit in many ways - he totally embodies the character, and there can’t be many who can hit the extreme notes in this role - it’s hard to see past his ‘real’ age. That visual issue is something of a shame, but similarly adds something in terms of Jesus’ growing world-weariness as he nears the end of his days.

His moral counter is Tim Rogers’ Judas, another Jesus Christ veteran. He certainly warmed up during the course of the first act, after a tentative opening left me struggling to make out what was being sung, but come the title song’s ‘rock god’ moment, he’d drawn the crowd into his tormented mind.

Understudy Jodie Steele stepped up as Mary Magdalene, understandably nervy in her opening scenes but developing into a powerful, yet tender, performance, especially in one of the show’s most iconic numbers I Don’t Know How To Love Him.

Although minor roles, the priests, Herod and Pontius Pilate (X Factor’s Rhydian Roberts) are all in superb form, each relishing the opportunities their characters present, whether wicked, comic or tragic respectively. Special word for Roberts’ beautiful voice, a great contrast to the rockier edge of Carter and Rogers, and his cool commanding presence a fabulous foil to Tom Gilling’s exuberance as Herod.

The supporting cast and ensemble gave phenomenal energy, no doubt pumped up by the score, switching from raw emotions to high camp within moments.

There are some clever contemporary touches to the oldest tale around in Bob Tomson and Bill Kenwright’s direction and Carole Todd’s choreography.

Contrary to what can too often be the case with touring productions, the set looks stunning and fills the vast Opera House stage with ease - which is no mean feat.

It’s strong and solid, sliding seamlessly from the streets to temples, the Garden of Gethsemane and the Hill of Golgotha, in support of the non-stop score and the sung-through libretto.

And the fantastic lighting and sound design perfectly complement the action, adding depth and harsh emotion to scenes, especially towards the end... Which I won’t spoil, not that it will be a great surprise to many.

* Jesus Christ Superstar, Opera House, Blackpool, until Saturday. Call 0844 856 1111 for tickets.