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  • Henry Longstaff

Jesus Christ Superstar - UK Tour - New Wimbledon Theatre

Rice and Webber’s rock opera arrives in Wimbledon

Jesus Christ Superstar UK Tour
Photography - Paul Coltas


Starting life as an infamous concept album that launched a tidal wave of success on Broadway, the West End and beyond is on tour across the UK - this specific production having started its life under the watchful eye of Timothy Sheader at the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park now transformed for venues up and down the country. It’s gritty and industrial, bursting with powerhouse vocals but for a first-time audience member, the narrative is tough to follow.

Taking inspiration from the gospels, the musical charts the run-up to Jesus’s crucifixion mostly from the point of view of Judas who has become disenfranchised in the direction of Jesus’s teachings, fearing that it will stir trouble with the occupying Romans. Its sung-through nature gives space for the leading figures in the story to share their raw emotions in the (somewhat adapted) familiar events from the bible. The brash and ballsy sound is undeniably impressive but the format is a struggle for those less accustomed to the plot, the story lost amongst the riffing and choreography. As a newcomer to the show (shameful I know) this meant that it was a battle to get into the piece, not quite sure about the identities of supporting characters and and less clear about the timeline - worth looking up the plot beforehand for newbies. 

An element that did not rely on prior plot knowledge is Tom Scutt’s impressive design. Steel girders form the backdrop, housing the awesome-sounding band, with a large cross cut out of the centre allowing Lee Curran’s lighting to blast through. The pair’s work harmonises with its vision, with jagged angles crisscrossing the space like a fully-fledged rock concert, drawing the drama of the piece outwards with the precision of a syringe. Nick Lidster’s sound design has the theatre bouncing with the vibrancy of the music as it should be to match the score. 

There are top vocal performances from every single member of the principal cast, each effortlessly showcasing their range and vigour but this did not always translate to the emotion of the piece, the singing taking priority over the acting and after a while the songs trend towards a repetitive cycle, particularly in the first half. Timo Tatzber breaks the mould delightfully in act two as Herod the musical deviation supporting this change but Ian McIntosh’s rendition of Gethsemane stole the second half, the simpler staging supported by aggressive lighting focused all eyes upon his outstanding voice. 

Inventive choreography from Drew McOnie is dutifully delivered by the impressive ensemble but often feels chaotic and unorganised and like the rest of the production whiffs of tour fatigue. It is not hard to see why fans adore this musical but for a first-time viewer, it remains inaccessible with a few too many shouty, angry sounds and a bewildering plot.

Currently touring until August 2024 - Tickets

Photography - Paul Coltas

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