With its energetic cast, colourful choreography and stand-out soloists, The Irving Stage Company’s modern take on the classic Jesus Christ Superstar packs a powerful punch.
Opening with a backlit stage, an empty spotlight and the rising sound of the incredible Heaven on their Minds rumbling from the orchestral pit, The Irving Stage Company prove they are well versed in the art of building anticipation amongst an audience who rustle in eager expectation until Judas (Glen Connor) bursts onto the stage. Donning a leather jacket and demonstrating plenty of angst, Conor handles the vocal arpeggios of the introductory song with impressive ease.
The soloist is soon joined by a lively chorus who, at various points throughout the evening, come up into the stalls ‘selling’ souvenirs from chocolate to knock of sunglasses much to the amusement of the audience and the distress of the protagonist, Jesus (Jonathan Lodge), who brings the frenzy to an abrupt climax with a triumphant falsetto scream that preludes the tremendous vocal range he, and others, will demonstrate as they take on the radical rock soundtrack of Lloyd-Webber.
With live musical accompaniment, it was however frustrating how the sound produced from the pit overwhelmed the voices of those on stage at times. Nevertheless, during the softer solos of suffering characters Jesus, Pilate (Lee Berry) and Mary (Victoria Robson), voice and instrument worked in perfect union to reduce the audience to silence and awe.
As with any interpretation of a well-known show, there are a few key performances that you anxiously await.
I was certainly holding my breath as the chorus scurried off stage leaving Mary alone to soothe Jesus and perform some of the show’s most beloved songs.
Yet I could swiftly breathe a sigh of relief as Robson did not disappoint.
The refrain of Everything’s Alright and the sensational performance of I don’t Know how to love him in particular, provided light and shade to the show and helped to colour the character after her somewhat unambiguous introduction as a temptress who spends much of the first half caressing Jesus in a raunchy red dress.
Berry who plays Pilate also deserves special mention for his ability to capture the nuances of the character compelled to end our protagonist’s life, not least in his skilful ownership of the sharp, sardonic lyrics of Tim Rice.
And while Berry and others showcase the sheer supremacy of their vocal talents, Brian Carmack (Herod) takes to the stage and shakes everything up in Act Two with a hilarious rendition of King
Herod’s Song, complete with flapper girl ensemble and jewelled jacket. A witty performance that offers comic relief to the otherwise unrelenting and emotional soundtrack.
Filled with colour, energy and extraordinary talent, the supposedly amateur production proves fitting for the professional stage.
It is at the Theatre Royal in Bury St Edmunds until November 8.