Tuesday, 12 April 2016

"Jesus Christ Superstar" by the ESNA Players
Loughborough Town Hall
Hold on to your hats, you could be in for a long one here, and I mean the review, so you may want to get a beverage before you start reading.
I have seen many amateur and professional productions of the Lloyd-Webber/Tim Rice's rock opera but I think I've now seen the best version. i won't need to tell you the story so we can skip to the bit I like best, heaping praise. I apologise for not being able to mention everyone by name but you should all know that every single one of you made the performance the success that it is.
Let's start at the top and Jesus Christ. Played by Darryl Clarke, I judge Jesus by the song "Gethsemane", which is sung after Judas has betrayed him and he is waiting to be arrested. I look for an equivalent to Ian Gillan's stage version of the song or Ted Neely's film version, I know in reality that I won't find this but Darryl's version was as close as I've heard. The note at the end of the song was long, powerful and controlled and gave me goose-bumps. The performance throughout was powerful and emotive, especially at the end when he was taken from the cross and wrapped up. I won't lie, I was welling up. Darryl has an amazing falsetto which he used to great affect and dealt with the intricate key changes incredibly well. You could really believe it when he appeared completely tired, spent and ready to die on that cross.
Ashley Bright played Judas. You could see the frustration he wrestled with after he betrayed Jesus; torn between his love for the man and trying to stop the situation that had been created getting out of hand. We all know how the story ends for Judas but when it came, it was quite one of the most violent and shocking versions I've seen. it would have been easy to overdo the suicide act but this wasn't overdone at all.Again a wonderfully powerful voice with great control.
I always thought that Mel C did a great job as Mary Magdalene but after tonight, Mel C could take some tips from Natasha Bryan. Beautiful to look at and gorgeous to listen to. Natasha has a very pure, clear and emotive voice, which matched her acting. It would be easy to replicate past versions but Natasha took " I Don't Know How To Love Him" and made that song her own.
For me one of the most powerful voices on stage came from Chris Wilson, who played Pilate. The sheer power was quite physical; he put the opera in to rock opera. Chris is a big man with a big voice and he commanded that stage, but it was also nice to see the almost moralistic side of Pilate shown when he had to order the 40 lashes to Jesus. You could see that he was holding back the punishment as he had no crime to punish but gave in to the baying crowd who wanted the crucifixion of Jesus.
Brilliant vocals from Jonathan Penton and Phil Burrows as Calaphas and Annas respectively. A wonderful rich bass voice teamed with another powerful set of lungs with Phil. This pair of characters are a pair that i always look forward to hearing, and again I was not disappointed.
Making his debut with ESNA was George Evans as Simon Zealots, and what a way to make a debut for the company. Solid performance and again a strong musical theatre voice.
Another role I always look forward to is that of Herod. Benjamin Hardyplays this role with a difference and makes the role very fresh. Gone is the camp, almost game show host style of character and in comes the sarcastic, bullying King. "King Herod's Song" is also very very different. Gone is the almost ragtime style piano based fun tune and in comes a more fitting rock version which still retains the humour of the lyrics, but now has a much harder edge, and i loved it! Ben is teamed with a bevy of dancers for the choreographed piece and leaves us in no doubt who's in charge!
A wonderfully large ensemble which really make the crowd scenes look like and sound like a crowd. They also create a visual delight in the group choreography pieces. And talking of which, the choreography was spectacular and exciting and you can see that there's been a lot of hard work put in by the cast with choreographer Carl Edwards.
Music, as always at Loughborough Town Hall is crystal clear. the acoustics in that venue are wonderful. Jon Orton is the musical director of the incredible orchestra there. I loved the subtle changes in some of the arrangements, as well as the not so subtle fresh arrangement of "Herod's Song". Some may have thought it all a bit too loud, but I have no problem with that, after all it is a rock opera. Well balanced in my opinion by Rob Temperton. Lighting, which just as brilliant was the work of Judith Moulton A modern feel in the costumes provided by the excellent wardrobe department and Victoria Clarke.
The set, by Jeremy Malpas, was on two levels which gave rise, quite literally to a bigger performance space with a large cinema screen at the back. This is normally seen at larger venues such as the Arena tour that went around a couple of years back, but it works so well in this venue and in this show.
There's a very hard working stage crew who, at most shows don't even get a mention but they deserve one with this show, as does stage manager, Ash Moulton.
Directed by Emma Adcock, this is one great big resounding hit she has here, I know what an enormous amount of incredible hard work goes into being a director. It's not just telling an actor where to stand and how to deliver a line. In this show you can tell from what you see on stage that the hard work of the director has been the foundation for the amazing work on show. This is just the tip of the iceberg where musical theatre is concerned.
Look, basically, this show is the best version of "Jesus Christ Superstar" I've seen, and I can't think of one bad version I've seen, but this just has the edge, professional or amateur level. Every singer has an amazing voice and there are some brilliant songs that every one knows, "Heaven On Their Minds", "What's The Buzz", "Hosanna", "Gethsemane", "I Don't Know How To Love Him" and of course the anthemic title track.
"Jesus Christ Superstar" is on at The Loughborough Town Hall until Saturday 16 April 2016. This is one musical you really do not want to miss out on, so get your ticket as soon as you can, while you still can.

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