Theatre: Judas upstages Jesus in Superstar revival

Jesus Christ Superstar: not very biblical

Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Jesus Christ Superstar is a rock opera for secular audiences, concentrating on Jesus’s humanity rather than His divinity. The book covers the final days of his life as seen from the point of view of Judas Iscariot. There is no Christian message and there is no Resurrection.

At its premiere in 1971 fundamentalists hated the show and thought Jesus was too human and too hippie. Billy Graham said the performance bordered on blasphemy and sacrilege. The Vatican did not give Jesus Christ Superstar the OK until 1999.

The first act of Timothy Sheader’s production at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre is very much a concert performance, with its hand-held microphones and others on stands. The songs give a lot of pleasure and Anoushka Lucas singing I Don’t Know How To Love Him is one of the high spots. But there is no drama or emotional involvement in the first act.

Tom Scutt’s set is the steel girders of an unfinished building and houses the orchestra. A huge crucifix lies on the floor and is used as a catwalk. The costumes are modern, drab, baggy, hoodie. The only people who look remotely biblical are Annas and Caiaphas and the Pharisees. The nearest the audience gets to anything religious is a Last Supper tableau after Leonardo da Vinci.

Judas is the superstar. Tyrone Huntley’s fanatical, unhappy youth dominates the stage as singer and actor. Declan Bennett as Jesus doesn’t stand out from the rest of the cast and he doesn’t make any real impact until the second act, when he is in Gethsemane and arrested. Choreographer Drew McOnie raises the temperature considerably and the scene with Jesus being whipped by a frenzied mob baying for his blood and screaming “Crucify him!” is staged for maximum horror. Paul Caulfield’s camp Herod is a drag queen who invites Jesus to walk across his swimming pool.

How do you like your fairy tales? Whose versions do you prefer? Those by Charles Perrault or those by the Brothers Grimm? Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods is a Grimm musical for sophisticated adults. His lyrics are so deft you come out of the theatre wanting to read them. The American-based Fiasco Theatre’s stripped-down version at Menier Chocolate Factory will appeal most to Sondheim aficionados who have seen the musical before and know what is going on. There are just 10 actors and a pianist. There is no orchestra. The actors are their own musicians. Noah Brody and Ben Steinfeld’s intimate and appealing production concentrates on text and story.

The story of Cinderella has been told many times but rarely can it have been told so badly. The Australian Ballet’s version at London Coliseum is choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky to music by Sergei Prokofiev. It is definitely not for traditionalists. Designer Jérôme Kaplan takes his inspiration from Salvador Dalí, René Magritte, Giorgio de Chirico and Man Ray.

A surreal Cinderella sounds fun; but it isn’t much fun in practice. The choreography is not amusing enough. The most arresting surreal image is the chorus of topiary cone trees on castors, transformed into tick-tocking, Man Ray metronomes with swinging pendulums and eyes – but even this is ruined for a cheap laugh.