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Jesus Christ Superstar - Reviews

Friday, 29 November, 1996

The refurbished Lyceum is a beautiful theatre, a lovely addition to the West End. It is all white on the outside, and with the big pillars it all looks rather grand. The inside is all red, and reading the reports from the critics of the popular press, most did not like this, however I did. I thought the colour fitted well with the stage design.

I found the musical to be a little average, mainly the music. But then I thought the same of Martin Guerre when I first saw it. But when I went to see it again, the music grew on me, maybe the same will happen with Jesus Christ Superstar?

The sound system was a little too load, at times there was a lot of vibration which stopped the show from being a polished production. The show is fast and thunderous and lasting 2 hours with an interval time goes by very fast making it hard to get bored even if you're not enjoying it.

The best part was the last 20 minutes when Jesus was put on the cross, it was very affective and gripping.

The best performance is from Zubin Varla who played a convincing Judas Iscariot. He really threw himself in to the part very passionately. It was an exceptionally powerful performance with a strong voice, he is an extremely good actor. I've seen him lately in 'Romeo and Juliet' and 'The Painter of Dishonour' at the Barbican and 'Beautiful Thing' at the Duke of York theatre a year or so ago. A versatile actor to look out for in the future.

teve Balsamo who plays Jesus of Nazareth seemed a little weak in the part to start with, but improved as the musical went on. He has an incredibly strong, 'screaming' voice which made you feel the torture he was suffering. Joanna Ampil who plays Mary Magdalene was adequate, but she did look a little feeble on this big stage and I didn't particularly like the way she sang ' I Don't know How To Love Him'.

The audience was full with young and old a like. On looking around at them to test their reaction (like I normally do), I think they were mixed about the show.

I expect Jesus Christ Superstar to run for quite awhile and is well worth seeing, even if the music and particularly the lyrics sound a little dated .

(Darren Dalglish)

The first thing to marvel at is the theatre itself. The Lyceum, formerly one of Londons great theatres has been restored from it's run down dilapidated state, to a beautiful new theatre at considerable cost to Apollo Leisure and Andrew Lloyd Webber's Really Useful Company.

You arrive in the auditorium to be faced with a huge set, a kind of roman arena, which has seats on stage (called Tribune Seating). This is where I watched the production from, and although its quite exiting to be right in the middle of all the action, it is somewhat frustrating how much time is spent looking at the back of actor's heads. They do all face the back at token points in the proceedings, but this has not been directed for "in the round", and I would not recommend you sit here.

Aside from that, this is a spectacular revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's monster hit from the seventies. It has been updated and brilliantly re- orchestrated, and is consequently much less dated that many provincial versions I have seen in recent years.

The piece is the story of the last seven days in the life of Jesus Christ. It concerns itself with the frustration of Judas Iscariot that the whole thing is getting out of hand and is worried of the danger of antagonising the roman Priests and Kings a little too much, to the point where he betrays Jesus to the Priests who have him crucified.

As Jesus, Steve Balsamo is a little distant and lacks stage presence, and usually either under reacts or over reacts, but never hits the right balance, He does have the most phenomenal voice, and his big number Gethsemane was the best I have ever heard it sung. The star of the show for me was Zubin Varla who's Judas Iscariot was entirely mesmerizing. His singing was superb, and he acted the part with great depth and feeling. From his opening number, Heaven on Their Minds to his tremendous rendition of Superstar he never stepped out of character once, and he took us on a roller-coaster ride of emotions and won the sympathy and respect of the entire audience.

Joanna Ampil was a great Mary Magdalene, however she should concentrate on learning to act through the music rather than taking sharp intakes of breath, or sniffing during her numbers when she wants to stress an emotion. Their is much drama in the music she needs to use it. The disciples were all strong, and worked well together, Glen Carter in particular gave an energetic performance as Simon.

David Burt gives the performance of his career as Pontius Pilate, he appears to gave worked hard on this role and it was definitely worth the effort. Nick Holder is well cast as Herod, and gives the show some much needed comedy.

I have to mention the priests, who looked like drag nuns, and were exceptionally camp. They had many people hysterical with laughter, although I am not sure this was the intention of the director. Martin Callaghan as Annas kept me well amused with his dreadful overacting - when he has concluded his contract in this production, he should definitely try out for Abanazar in Aladdin, he is made for the role!

Director, Gale Edwards has brought together a magnificent production team, David Hersheys lighting, John Napiers breathtaking set, Aletta Collins choreography, and an extraordinarily talented cast, all blend together to form one of the best shows currently available in the West End.

(Jason L Belne)

I was looking forward to seeing this revival since I worked on the first national tour of JCS way back in the 80's. I was also looking forward to seeing the interior of the restored Lyceum Theatre. Neither of these expectations were unfortunately met last Fri night. Taking the theatre first, you can only glimpse some of the beautiful interior through John Napier's sprawling set which covers the boxes and almost all of the plasterwork above and around the proscenium arch.

However, the public areas are very nice and I was very impressed with the sight lines from my seat (Balcony, lowest price too!) especially as the stage extends well in front of the prosc. arch and this normally spells doom for those in the balcony (try ENO at the Coliseum for really bad sight lines even from the Upper Circle if the acting comes even slightly forward!).

Sadly I cannot rave about the show. It really is a bit of a museum piece which perhaps could be revived after another generation for nostalgia's sake, but it seems that this revival has been put together as a commercial money spinner and too soon after the original.

Gale Edward's production, in my opinion, is too serious, and it loses the campness of the piece, which after all is titled Superstar and so implies a rather over the top approach. This is perhaps bourn out most strongly in Herod's number, which always used to bring the house down and was a real show stopper. It was well done, with fire spurting out of the stage floor, but it wasn't very funny......three chorus boys in jock-straps does not make for a very outrageous time (these days!).

There is an awful lot of screaming in it....Judas (admirably acted and sung by Zubin Varla) was having trouble with some of his ear-piercing high notes. Steve Balsamo as Jesus does a lot of wandering around the stage swishing his long hair around and only really comes into his own in Act2 in the Gethsemane scene in which his singing is superb. This is the high point of the show, superbly lit (again by the excellent David Hersey) and the only time that you see any major character development.. David Burt should perhaps get top honours for screaming, particularly after the 39 lashes (very cleverly done), though in fairness, the role requires this amount of hystrionics and he does convey a person who is being manipulated by the crowd.

A very large cast are very earnest in what they do but in the end you don't really care much about any of them, the piece doesn't allow for much character development. In truth I found Act1 very boring and very short too, in fact the whole thing would be better without an interval, especially when Apollo Leisure have the nerve to try and charge L1.80 for a tub of ice-cream!!.

If you are expecting a typical mega-show spectacle with JCS you will be very disappointed. There is hardly and set at all, just one lift in the centre of the circular stage (which I was convinced would revolve at some point but didn't), although it is very well lit, makes good use of low frequency surround-sound effects and has a "coup de teatre" at the end of the crucifixion. Sadly, even the fine mist/rain that falls on the cross had been done before with Inspector Calls (still ranks as one of the best plays in the West End I believe).

A bit of a non-event in my opinion, not worth L32.50 and it wasn't full either, though it looked more like block bookings that had not been taken up. I can't see it running for the same length of time that the original ran, nor does it deserve to. It's sad that Lloyd Webber has currently got 6 shows running but it is a fact that audiences won't pay the huge amounts to see lesser known musicals, so they take the "safer" option. In this case I don't think they will feel that it was worth it.

(Steve Taylor)

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