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Jesus Christ Superstar review at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre – ‘pure The X Factor’

Declan Bennett in Jesus Christ Superstar at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre. Photo: Johan Persson Declan Bennett in Jesus Christ Superstar at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre. Photo: Johan Persson
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This is as far from theology as it gets. Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Tim Rice’s strange, amorphous rock opera telling the story of Jesus’ last days has always been an odd one. But Timothy Sheader’s production has given it a reason to be: a big, brash swipe at fandom, concerts and celebrity. Jesus Christ can go to hell. This is all about the Superstar.

Though Declan Bennett’s Jesus Christ lacks charisma (he only really comes alive just before he dies, in a bloody mess on the cross), the rest of the cast is stunning. And, Jesus Christ, they’ve found a superstar in Tyrone Huntley as Judas, played with a twisted, tortured ferocity. His almighty voice is electrifying and his searing anger makes him the most fleshed out character in the production.

Also feeding into the superstar focus, many of the cast are singer/songwriters and members of bands: some of the voices, while lacking polish and precision, are instead full of character. Like Anoushka Lucas’s Mary who sings all the famous tunes – Everything’s Alright, I Don’t Know How To Love Him and Could We Start Again Please – with a reserved, moving tenderness.

Slowly the vision of this relentless, formless beast reveals itself: in the Justin Bieber sagging trackie bottoms of the costumes, the thick eyeliner straight out of a Green Day gig, the mountains of gold lame that shroud Herod like one of Nicki Minaj’s more grotesque attempts at couture. This is a world of performance and stardom, laying bare the hyperbole and ridiculousness of superstars through the ages.

The spectacle of celebrity hasn’t really changed, from prog to hip hop to Queen Bey herself. Nor has the way that reputations can turn on a knife point. From acolytes to accusers, Sheader shows us when fandoms turn nasty. Just look at Twitter: one minute they love you, the next they’re baying for your blood.

This is a production that knows how huge it looks. When Jesus takes centre stage, guitar in hand, the lighting and the look of it is pure The X Factor – as is the thick fog of haze that emanates from the giant cross lying on its side like a fashion runway. But there are problems, too: it’s almost too showy, the baddies come across too comically compared to the earnest goodies. And there’s no getting away from the fact that, at times, this rock opera is little more than a shapeless mess of discrete and ill-matching riffs. But Sheader has embraced the madness and, wearing us down with size and noise and sheer abrasion, this unholy beast of a production takes the sacred and makes it resolutely profane.

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Tyrone Huntley’s Judas is the superstar in this big, brash production of the Lloyd Webber classic