Andrew Lloyd Webber’s biggest musicals are coming to YouTube, and this Easter weekend’s release is ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ (obviously). The production was filmed on an arena tour of the UK in 2012, and stars Tim Minchin, Mel C, Chris Moyles and Ben Forster. Fancy a sneak preview? Here’s our review of the opening night at The O2 back in 2012…
Before a note is sung on the opening night of this arena-touring Andrew Lloyd Webber revival, there’s already a waft of anachronism about it. This is, after all, a show whose attempts at cutting-edge modernisation involved picking its lead via flop ITV talent show ‘Superstar’. Which lends it all the contemporary credibility of a drunk uncle dancing at a wedding.
And, surprise surprise, a pall of ludicrousness hangs over director Laurence Connor’s revival of Webber and Tim Rice’s 1971 smash like the smell of the bland, overpriced burritos in the foyer. Disembodied social networking messages like ‘Wots the buzz?’ (sic) float across designer Mark Fisher's backdrop of pseudo-Banksy murals as crusties set up pop-up tents in an attempt to recast Jesus’s disciples as the Holy Land equivalent of the Occupy movement.
Mel C is a riot grrl Mary Magdalene whose insurrectionary kit includes a little essential oil for a shoulder rubdown. Tim Minchin’s a dreadlocked keffiyeh-sporting Judas Iscariot who lugs his black backpack around as a curious post-7/7 signifier of evil. A bevvy of white-corset-clad babes in angel wings suggest the Garden of Gethsemane was some kind of Judean Manumission. And in recasting the Roman establishment not just as overcoat-wearing City bankers, but as a clan whose logo also contains an Illuminati-referencing triangle, it’s a wonder the characters don’t wander on stage with the word ‘Eeeeevilll’ tattooed on their foreheads.
There’s no doubting the brilliance of the cast, though. Minchin’s the stand-out: a tour de force of wobbly-eyed emotion and vocal intensity. Mel C’s eminently likeable turn might just be the most credible thing she’s done this century. Even Chris Moyles, who invests a crushed red velvet suit as a bizarre Jeremy Kyle-esque TV chatshow host version of King Herod manages an inoffensive charisma. And granted, ‘Superstar’ winner Ben Forster’s Jesus does engage in a face-off with Judas that becomes a testicle-rupturing falsetto-geddon of unbridled ridiculousness. But, hey, that’s basically what he’s here for.
Connor’s production struggles to hang together, though. Attempting a hyper-modern, zeitgeist-channelling staging of a distinctly retro-sounding rock opera leads to bits that jar. It’s a bit like Black Lace staging a gig in Fabric. It’s like a Jim Davidson stand-up show on E4. It’s like Andrew Lloyd Webber trying to clothe himself in the trappings of a member of UK Uncut. Oh wait: that’s what it is. Still, there’s no ignoring the rapturous whoops of the enormodome audience. Suspend your disbelief and there’s an enjoyably daft experience to be had here.
Watch ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ free on YouTube from 7pm on Friday April 10, and for 48 hours afterwards.