Theatre Review: The Production Company’s Jesus Christ Superstar will leave you with mixed emotions (State Theatre, Melbourne to 13th August)

We all know the story about the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and the undeniable suffering he endured in his last hours. Well, this musical – Jesus Christ Superstar – chronicles the days leading up to Jesus’ last, and does so through song and dance. With Andrew Lloyd Webber as the almighty creator of this work, it’s understandable to be a little bit apprehensive, but with some TLC from The Production Company, it can’t be that bad. Right?

Wrong.

It’s not entirely bad, but the show itself has its fair share of issues, and this production left me feeling a little mixed with emotions.

Jesus Christ Superstar was one of the first biblical based rock operas created back in the 1970s, a time when shows like Book of Mormon would have never seen the light of day. Comedy and religion are not commonly explored together but when executed intelligently and at a level that is either one end of the spectrum or the other, it will leave you feeling settled. However, when a piece of works explores this dark time but then raises Jesus to a level of ‘fame’ it just leaves a distasteful feeling. Given this is the way Webber wanted it, there’s just no way this show can compete on a level like Book of Mormon, which ironically is playing in Melbourne now as well.

The cast did as the script said, and under the guidance of director Gale Edwards did nothing wrong. In fact, every actor and singer on that stage showed their respect to the content and their role. Leading man Rob Mills made his Production Company debut in the title role and blew the socks off everyone. While there were weak moments in his falsetto, ‘Gethsemane (I Only Want To Say)’ serves as his stand out career highlight. Mills has earned his place on the stage and his emotional and physical commitment to this role have not gone unnoticed.

Act Two is mostly difficult to digest due to the violent nature of story; you know it’s coming but it still alarms you. I was very impressed with the creative way in which they showed Jesus being whipped, and the actual crucifixion itself was a powerful moment. Mills didn’t do much talking in the second act, but his devotion to continue the emotional torment was hauntingly beautiful. These were compelling moments of storytelling and the only time where I felt a deep sense of sadness and emotional connection to the characters.

Zoy Frangos played Judas, the man who betrayed Jesus. While he looked like he should have been in West Side Story, his sheer grit and vulnerability with this character were remarkable. Opening the show with a powerhouse song ‘Heaven on their Mind’ showed us that Frangos is vocally brilliant for this role. This show is no easy sing but with two strong leading men working hard on that stage, they showed us just how it’s done.

The ever divine Alinta Chidzey as Mary Magdalene was a class-act. While this role isn’t as meaty as others she has played, Chidzey’s open heart and love for her character and Jesus came through both in song and movement. It came as quite a surprise when Mike Snell and Stephen McDowell, who play supporting leads, took their moments to shine brighter than the illuminated cross at the start of the show. Snell who played Simon led the song ‘Hosanna’ and was impressive beyond words. As for McDowell, his strong rock-pop vocals carried throughout the entire State Theatre and undoubtedly had the most appropriate tone for the show. He stepped it up and it was fantastic to see.

Now, I have a problem with the costuming, and this is where I am left mostly feeling disappointed. While this story was written in biblical times, The Production Company decided to give it that modern day feel. However they completely missed the mark. There was no cohesion as to what era these characters were in. One minute you have the ensemble looking like hippies from ‘Rhythm of Life’, the next you have Michael Cormick, who played Pontius Pilate, in a full black leather ensemble looking like he’s ready for some S&M type action. Not to mention the pleather black coats the ensemble wore which have been reused from their Signing in the Rain show about four years ago. You don’t forget those things. It just didn’t make sense. The set was modern and worked with the story but the costuming was an absolute miss. It’s a shame really.

This version of Jesus Christ Superstar is by no means perfect, but the commitment from the actors on stage makes it worth watching. If you’re not comfortable with seeing the crucifixion scene then perhaps this show isn’t for you, but it is a good exploration into the times that were, when Jesus was alive.

Jesus Christ Superstar is showing at The State Theatre in Melbourne until August 13th. For tickets and more info, head here.

The reviewer attended the show on opening night, Saturday July 29th.