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Jesus Christ Superstar, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, review: ‘Shockingly modern revival’

PUBLISHED: 15:39 02 August 2016 | UPDATED: 15:39 02 August 2016

Tyrone Huntley and Declan Bennett as Judas and Jesus. Picture: Johan Persson

Tyrone Huntley and Declan Bennett as Judas and Jesus. Picture: Johan Persson

Johan Persson

It’s 45 years since Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s religious rock musical debuted on Broadway, but this anniversary revival is shockingly modern.

The chorus wear urban dancewear, and Jesus (ex-Eastender Declan Bennett) sports tattoos, a baseball cap and a shaved side haircut.

These touches ensure the show never feels dated ­– no mean feat when contending with songs penned in the glam rock era.

Director Timothy Sheader, choreographer Drew McOnie and set designer Tom Scutt can all take credit for this.

The minimalist yet bold set ­– the walkway is cross-shaped (naturally) and clever automated crucifix where Jesus is left to die thankfully worked fine after failing earlier that week.

McOnie’s jerky choreography is show-stealing; the only jazz hands you’ll see are during the tongue-in-cheek Herod’s Song.

In fact, for a show that takes the story of the Passion and turns it into a rock musical, the camp theatrics are few and far between. When they can’t be avoided, they are embraced with a knowing wink.

The recreation of Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper is a particularly nice touch.

Sheader pays deference to the show’s origins as a concept album: mic stands are everywhere and Pilate (David Thaxton) is a kohl-eyed rock god.

A sung-through musical though, would be nothing if its company didn’t have serious singing chops but there’s no weak link in the cast.

Cavin Cornwall’s deep bass is perfect for the sinister high priest Caiaphas, while Peter Caulfield rightly makes Herod a figure of ridicule.

It is Tyrone Huntley as Judas, who dominates every scene and deservedly receives the night’s biggest cheer at the curtain call.

An outsider from the beginning, we hear his internal anguish in his powerhouse voice.

Soulful Anoushka Lucas as Mary Magdalene excels at the show’s best known track, I Don’t Know How to Love Him, but I’m not wholly convinced by her devotion.

Bennett, too, is not always believable as leader of a flock, but comes into his own when playing the Messiah at his most vulnerable, particularly during second half number Gethsemane.

A show that can still surprise and get you tapping your feet 45 years on.

Jesus Christ Superstar is at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre.

Rating: 4/5 stars

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