I remember that when I first learned of the existence of Jesus Christ Superstar as a production, I was a conflicting mixture of concerned and impressed. After all, it’s a risky concept; a rock opera loosely based on the passion of Christ, but with Judas Iscariot somewhat painted as the true, tragic hero. It sounded dangerous, but its roaring success since premiering on Broadway in ’71 consisted of more than enough evidence to dispel my vague concerns.
Central Hall Musical Society’s (CHMS) production last night started off determinedly atmospheric. Upon entering the main hall, we were greeted by a dusky stage with a fog machine providing some extra creepiness, faint audio of broadcasting tapes that seemed to be mainly on the subject of political corruption playing eerily in the background. This atmosphere did well in preceding a short prologue read over the speaker informing the audience of the setting being Jerusalem in the near future, 2024. With the countless anachronisms that would inevitably be involved thus set up, the production opened with a suitably foreboding overture.
Alexander Wilson opening as Judas Iscariot was powerful; his voice very much suited the “rock” of rock opera, but I was a lot more impressed with the conviction with which he delivered each line. This passionate deliverance stood out above vocal range, but it did work well, particularly in his final scene, where he portrayed Judas’ internal conflict with a convincing external frenzy.
Nicholas Armfield’s Jesus was convincing, with a charismatic approach to the role followed by a solid portrayal of the rollercoaster emotions following. His acting out of Jesus’ tragic development of emotion and situation throughout the production was impressive; from his carefree conviction at the beginning of the play to the emotive solo in Gethsemane being hauntingly real, they were a clear testament to a part into which Armfield had clearly invested.
The integral interplay between Jesus and Judas was well done, although at times not fully immersive; there were often directorial issues in terms of distraction in the form of the frenzied choreography given to the chorus during what should be scenes focused on a few main characters, particularly within the first act. Ignoring this, the interaction between all characters, overall, was very good. The cast had clearly taken their roles by the collar and determinedly shaped them into being their own.
The chorus wavered a bit on first impression, with a repeated joint timing slip during “What’s The Buzz?”, but they soon solidified themselves as an impressive group. After very few initial, opening night stumbles in terms of synchronicity, the moves of a difficult and almost ludicrously fast-paced choreography were delivered on point, and still with voices remaining clear and musically sound.
The stand-out performance for me, however (agreed with by the friend sitting beside me), was that of Chris Allen as Peter. Throughout, his acting was flawless, his voice phenomenal, and his performance in “Could We Start Again, Please?” was heartbreaking.
All in all, CHMS’s production last night was very good. Attributing the few mistakes noted above to opening night stumbles that are easily rectified, I would highly recommend seeing Jesus Christ Superstar tonight or tomorrow; it’s highly enjoyable, and the cast have made sure that it’s a damn good show.