The stage is set, tall scaffolding fills the space entirely. Smoke filters in, lights cast intriguing shadows. The prolific guitar riff rings out through the State Theatre. The Production Company’s Jesus Christ Superstar is directed by the legendary expert Gale Edwards, whose past-direction of JCS has earned Olivier and Tony nominations and an Emmy win.
You’re in for a great night of theatre with this incredibly well-cast production of Jesus Christ Superstar. It’s always exciting when JCS comes to town, and this production is no exception.
The Production Company’s Orchestra sits proudly on stage. The eleven-piece rock-band-cum-orchestra, headed by MD Anthony Gabriele, have such a critical part in the presentation of this show with the well-known music equally as important as any other element.
System Sound and associates have put together an impeccable sound design. So often with rock musicals, the music will drown out the words and it’s just loud. The words are clear, the diction is impressive and it’s exciting that such an epic rock musical has been presented in such a clear way.
Jesus Christ is Rob Mills’ coming-of-age role. He is exceptionally committed to this character, delivering a touching and powerful performance. “Gethsemane (I Only Want to Say)” earned the most applause of the opening night, and rightfully so. Not only was his performance strong, Mills seemed to connect to this narrative of having to work extremely hard to meet expectations placed on him through his career. Mills exceeded all expectations, he is a remarkable leading man and made this role his own.
Zoy Frangos makes his leading role debut as Judas Iscariot. It’s a big role, but Frangos is more than up for the job. His strong vocals, purposeful physicality and emotional clarity bring Judas’ tragic storyline and emotional roller coaster to life in a convincing and moving way. Frangos’ risk to leave ensemble roles behind to pursue Judas has more than paid off.
Alinta Chidzey’s Mary Magdalene is a gentle, softer Mary. The care and love she has for Jesus are central here. It was interesting to have Chidzey sing directly at Judas while addressing Jesus with “try not to get worried, try not to turn onto problems that upset you”. Her voice is calming and full of emotion, compellingly showing the love between the character. Chidzey is impressive to keep that lighter touch amongst a rough, grungy production.
Michael Cormick brings his extensive experience into his Pilate. Cormick brings a breath of fresh air to the conflicted governor. The intimating costuming for this Pilate creates a stark difference between the clearly struggling man, falling to intimate gestures to save Jesus.
Every role Trevor Ashley performs seems to have an air that it created specifically for him. Ashley is oozing with the self-importance and snark typical of Herod and the staging and choreography of the scene cleverly enhance this larger-than-life character.
Paul Hughes as Caiaphas and Stephen McDowell as Annas head up the priests with a commanding presence and impressive vocals for the challenging ranges of these characters. Mike Snell as Simon Zealotes and Andrew Cook as Peter have sensational voices and deliver remarkable performances.
The calibre of talent in the ensemble of this production is telling, many of them usually in lead roles. They fulfil the roles of apostles, priests, guards, disciples, temple merchants, lepers, Herod dancers, Superstar dancers, reports and crowd. Kelley Abbey continues to deliver consistently incredible choreography.
Kim Bishop’s costumes are fairly naturalistic for the non-governing characters, those in positions of power are highly stylised and extremely satisfying. Dan Potra’s set utilises the massive space available with multi-levelled scaffolding, maintaining a simplistic, uncluttered set throughout. Trent Suidgeest’s lighting is highly effective throughout, becoming particularly wonderful during Jesus’ death and other high-tension moments.
The Production Company has delivered yet another fantastic show with this production of Jesus Christ Superstar. It’s moving and carries all of the epic moments we’ve come to expect from Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s genius rock musical.
Jesus Christ Superstar is on at Arts Centre Melbourne’s State Theatre until 13 August 2017.