Jesus Christ Superstar is quite the undertaking. An enormous score, huge following and contentious subject matter, its challenge and intrigue continues to rouse and excite performers and theatregoers, even 45 years on. Based on the final moments of the life of Jesus Christ, this production penned by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice is certainly known to be a rock opera of epic proportions. MLOC has chosen to present JCS in a much more understated way. The simplicity of this iteration calls largely for the audience to put aside the dark and fantastical tones that are often very explicitly apparent in the costuming and set choices for this particular show, instead focusing on the softness, the heart and the community that is so embedded within this narrative. MLOC certainly embody the traditional definition of ‘community theatre’ and seem to very much adhere to maintaining a vision and direction that is in line with this. While quaint and light, this production certainly did have heart, boasting unity, collaboration and, ultimately community.
The direction of the piece was, at times, a little difficult to follow. The stage was often very crowded, which made the point of intended focus difficult to initially locate, and then maintain engagement with. At times, it was unclear as to what was going on plot wise, due to some clunky ensemble character switching. This was particularly evident following the betrayal of Jesus, where the ensemble went from devoted disciples to persecutors. The transition just wasn’t clear enough, leaving the audience a little confused. With that said, what was quite impressive was the obvious effort to ensure that the cast understood the narrative wholeheartedly, and could truly appreciate the impact this man had on so many people – positive or negative. It would be completely remiss to not name Roisin O’Niell specifically at this point. Her engagement with the necessary passion and emotion was spot-on. It was the simple things – subtle connections made with fellow cast, fellow disciples, a look, a stance. She certainly set a standard.
Costuming was appropriate and certainly set the mood – though some change would have really helped to differentiate between characters, as well as help discern time.
Lighting did not do much to evoke the intended emotions for such an often thought-provoking show. This meant all of the responsibility was left on the performers. The assistance of some inspired lighting would have perhaps really hammered home some of the key moments of the piece.
In sticking with the technical side of things, it was unfortunate that so many sound issues arose throughout the performance. Sound so often makes or breaks a show, and in this instance it was very difficult to maintain engagement for too long without an interruption. In light of this, it is more than likely that this was recognised and remedied following opening night.
Despite the sound issues, the Musical Direction did seem quite alright. The band, while suffering from timing issues at certain points, certainly provided the big rock sound one comes to expect from a show such as this. The cast harmonies were also rather impressive, given the very obvious range of experience on stage. This was also true of the choreography, which seemed aptly constructed for the range of abilities
Ben Paine as Jesus looked the part and certainly showed a very strong commitment to the part. The character development was very clear and Paine’s ability to so seamlessly transition between the rapidly changing psyche of Jesus is to be commended. At times, the vocal part did seem to test Paine, but for the most part is was very obvious that the role was one he had worked tremendously hard at doing justice.
Omar Moustafa played Judas with a real sense of gusto. He too showed great control over the development of the character, despite some vocal fatigue. In the lead up to his death, his performance did seem a little too melodramatic, leaving the audience wanting for a little more subtly to the pain. In saying this, his performance was consistently engaging.
Carly Daley portrayed Mary as beautifully broken. Her rendition of ‘I Don’t Know How To Love Him’ perhaps lacked some of the expected power behind it, yet the gentleness really did allow for a greater connection between the audience and her character, allowing an insight into her fragility.
As the flamboyant Herod, Sam Marzden was certainly a hit with the audience. Surrounded by showgirls (and boys), Marzden relished in his time on stage providing a hilariously quirky and memorable performance. Incredibly animated, he definitely lifted the overall energy of the production.
The ensemble, as mentioned, represented a variety of abilities and on-stage experience. Each very obviously gave the best performance they were capable of, and this was certainly well-received by the audience. While at times the energy did seem to wane, their performance of the title song ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ certainly picked it back up. It was lovely to see so much enjoyment on stage during that number in particular.
I really do believe that MLOC represents what it means to be a true community theatre company. It is obvious that everyone involved just loves to play a part, no matter what that part might be – on stage, off stage or otherwise. The fun and love for theatre, and for each other, really shines through, and that’s really all you can ask for at a community level.