Jesus Christ Superstar

Feb 9 2024 | By More

★★★★☆     Rock-tastic

Playhouse: Tue 6 – Sat 10 Feb 2024
Review by Thom Dibdin

It’s back to basics for the Regents Park Open Air Theatre’s Jesus Christ Superstar, at the Playhouse to Saturday, in a production that soars and roars in all the right places.

Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s sung-through rock opera first saw the light of day as a concept album in 1970. It’s been a film of course and there have been many tours and local amateur revivals of the musical. But none has reflected the year of its release quite like this, a year when Led Zeppelin were on III, Bowie was selling the world and the Stones were getting their Ya Yas out.

Ian McIntosh (Jesus) and Ensemble in the Palm Sunday scene of Jesus Christ Superstar. Pic: Paul Coltas

Away from its open-air theatre origins, this is a seriously big and bombastic take, illustrating the extent to which the then 22 year-old Lloyd Webber was showing himself to be master of all contemporary genres, and even getting away with Tim Rice’s over-egging of the lyrics.

This is flash, bang, wallop stuff, with bravura performances from Ian McIntosh as Jesus and Shem Omari James as Judas, with a particularly telling turn from Hannah Richardson as Mary. But the dominating forces here are lighting designer Lee Curran and choreographer Drew McOnie in what is a most memorable, if not aways subtle, production.


Curran’s lighting dominates Tom Scutt’s design. It’s harder working in helping tell the story than rock concert lighting, but certainly reflects the hard-rocking sound produced by the band, under MD Michael Riley, hidden high on upstage scaffolding behind glaring, headlight-like lights.

Hannah Richardson (Mary) and Ian McIntosh (Jesus) in Jesus Christ Superstar. Pic: Paul Coltas.

Quite how McOnie’s choreography reflects Rice and Webber’s take on the final days of Jesus of Nazareth is not clear. But it is certainly memorable in a jaggedy, modern dance kind of a way – all juddering hands and big, sweeping synchronised movements of the ensemble across the stage.

Perhaps the most memorable aspect comes in its moments of stillness, with the arrival of Matt Bateman’s Annas and Jad Habchi’s deliciously voiced Caiaphas, with priests Francis Foreman, Darius J James and Timothy Roberts in This Jesus Must Die – processing out onto the huge fallen cross that dominates the stage, bearing long ceremonial staffs that they invert to reveal as microphone stands.

moves easily

In storytelling terms, director Timothy Sheader gets it spot on. There’s a real buzz and tension from the opening Overture, with the ensemble running in through the auditorium, that moves easily into Omari James’ opening Heaven on their Minds that pulls out Judas’s doubts and concerns for Jesus’s ministry, and moves on into a quite thrilling ensemble What’s the Buzz.

Ian McIntosh (Jesus) and the disciples in Jesus Christ Superstar. Pic: Paul Coltas.

The overriding feeling is of a youthful band of rebels, standing up for the oppressed against both the imperial invaders and institutional authority. Their charismatic leader has his eye on the purity of their message while his lieutenant has greater concerns for how they will be perceived.

Moreover, this is a production which gets the importance that Rice and Lloyd Webber put on Judas in Jesus’s story – his betrayal being the catalyst for all that is to come. So even when Omari James is not centre stage, he is constantly patrolling the periphery.

gloriously uplifting

In terms of highlights, this has many. There’s a gloriously uplifting Hosanna; Ryan O’Donnell brings out the nuances of Pilate’s Dream; Ian McIntosh brings everything to the table for Gethsemane and, most rarely, Hannah Richardson gives a properly lyric-driven performance of Mary Magdalene’s I Don’t Know How to Love Him that gets right into the heart of the piece.

Shem Omari James (Judas) and Ensemble in Jesus Christ Superstar. Pic: Paul Coltas.

There are quibbles. This is a very pacey production and while most of it is commendably clear, several of Judas’s key numbers are taken at such a lick that Omari James’ words become lost. This is a crucial issue, as the piece’s success rests upon the understanding of those lyrics.

Then there is the question of iconography. Having a crucifix-shaped on-stage cat-walk that doubles as a table for the Last Supper is is a nice touch of foreshadowing. However, it feels a bit previous to have the chorus dancing around with crucifix iconography when the event hasn’t happened yet.

These aside, this is a powerful and meaty production that brings out the best of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s score without ever pussyfooting around the edges of either it, or what Tim Rice has to say. It’s the buzz; it’s what’s happening.

Running time: Two hours (including one interval).
Edinburgh Playhouse, 18 – 22 Greenside Place, EH1 3AA.
Tue 6 – Sat 10 February 2024
Evenings: 7.30pm; Wed, Sat: 2.30pm.
Tickets and details:Book here.

Glasgow King’s Theatre, 297 Bath St, Glasgow G2 4JN
Mon 29 July – Sat 4 August 2024
Evenings: 7.30pm; Wed, Sat: 2.30pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.

The company of the Jesus Christ Superstar Tour. Pic: Paul Coltas.


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  1. Lyzzie Dell says:

    I loved the production as a whole,but delighted to know I was not the only one ,who could not make out the lyrics of Judas.