Review: Jesus Christ Superstar at Odyssey Arena Belfast 9th of October 2012.
You know the show you’re at is going to be interesting when the Free Presbyterian Church Of Ulster are protesting outside it, handing out flyers to the almost 8000 attendees. A read of this flyer reveals that the rock opera Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber collaborated on detailing the last seven days of Jesus’ life before the crucifixion is considered by this particular religious group as blasphemous, inaccurate and Rice’s lyrics to be Satan’s misrepresentation of the Bible. This noted, we take our seats in Belfast’s Odyssey Arena, unsure what to expect.
If you had a TV, Facebook or Twitter during the month of July you can’t have failed to miss the huge publicity campaign surrounding Andrew Lloyd Webber’s search for a Jesus. Everywhere you turned you were confronted by phone numbers and pleas to vote for one of the young men who got down to single figures in this competition. Whatever you may think of reality TV talent shows, simple probability states that if you audition thousands of men nationwide for a particular role, sooner or later you’re going to find some damn fine singers. Eventual winner Ben Forster took his place as part of an unusual cast including Tim Minchin as Judas, Chris Moyles as Herod and ex-Spice Girl Melanie Chisholm as Mary Magdalene.
With so much publicity surrounding the tour it stands to reason that the tale of Jesus will be updated, brought kicking and screaming out of Nazareth AD and updated it is, the dreadlocks of Tim Minchin replicated throughout the chorus of hippies who set up camp onstage with pop-up tents and looking forward to an exciting event that never quite happens. The screen behind the stage sets the scene, the familiar BBC news beeps introduce anchors talking of war and unrest while the riot police swarm the stage clearing away hooded youths. Into this step Judas and Jesus, differing points of view being sang against the characteristically seventies’ electric guitar. Comedian Minchin commands the stage, pacing angrily, smoking neurotically, realistically portraying the metamorphosis from cocky bitterness to broken man and possessing a surprisingly versatile voice, bringing a slightly eerie folk Jethro Tull twang to proceedings, a twang that isn’t distracting but brings an individuality to this role. He’s paired with a soulful, sensitive yet vocally limited Jesus, limits that become more apparent as the show continues.
Forster tries his hardest to impress the Belfast audience and they’re curious to see what he can do; their silence in the lead up to Gethsemane expectant. The toughest song in the show, it goes off without a hitch, undoubtedly having been rehearsed within an inch of its life. He’s dependent on his falsetto rather than the rock scream that’s needed but it’s pleasing enough, an extended last note gaining audience approval. It’s during other songs the cracks show, the pulsing neon red light district of The Temple not enough to distract from his weak scream of “Get out!”.
Newly svelte radio DJ Chris Moyles minces across the stage in a red velvet suit, chorus members holding up signs asking for applause, applause that’s already being given. The audience, glad of this light relief and nod to reality TV – with a set piece asking people to text in to vote “Lord or Fraud”, he spins Jesus round on what’s almost a dentist’s chair – lap his performance up, and although brief, it’s one we remember.
Habitual tomboy Mel C does her job well, looking strangely beautiful with her feathered dreadlocks she sings with real sensitivity, only once or twice resorting to the familiar Spice Girls stretched caterwaul. They’re all sang off stage by the suited Caiaphas though, his bass both terrifying with the promise of doom and resonating throughout the arena as he sits around a grey table with his other priests like a board meeting from Omen III.
No devils though, just a musical. One that portrays man at his best and worst, provokes both smiles and tears, contains heavenly choral harmonies, searing rock, down ‘n’ dirty Gospel and brings Tim Minchin to a whole new audience. No bad thing.