Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Jesus Christ Superstar - O2 and Wembley (Arena Tour 2012)

Just got back from my third time seeing JCSS with Tim Minchin as Judas, Ben Forster as Jesus and Mel C as Mary M (plus Chris Moyles as Herod) -


It was wonderful. Not such a close-up seat as my 5th row central position for the Sunday evening at the O2, but it was still a great experience to see it from the rear stalls (slightly tiered), giving an excellent view of the whole staging, ensemble choreography and the screeen (I noticed things I'd missed previously)

In general I thought the company were more 'in the groove' at this stage in the tour, and the show benefitted from that extra confidence and ease. Minchin's performance was as powerful as ever, if not more so, although his voice seemed to crack more than just for emotional effect during his song of despair, just before he hangs himself. I'm kicking myself now for not managing to grab a sneaky audio recording of his Heaven on their Mind number (sadly the video of that - by someone else - is now deleted from Youtube) and his Damned for all time/Blood Money song. I prefer both of those as vocal performances and as songs - although the Death of Judas bit is incredibly moving and powerful, and JCS at the end is fun, if slightly underwhelming in its impact, for some strange reason.

Apart from the incredibly moving Death of Judas, my favourite parts of the show (for differing reasons) are:

- all the songs by Pontius Pilate -the one while he exercises is cleverly staged and effective in its dismissive, casual exercise of power, but I particularly like the haunting quality of the first dream song, and the exasperated, powerless, forced exercise of 'power' in the final 'you innocent puppet' one.

- the Poor Jerusalem bit - another haunting moment

- the final part of the show - AFTER the big Jesus Christ Superstar number and Jesus' final words on the cross. The red petals fall as Jesus 'gives up the ghost', and then there's the dignified, gentle deposition, with the symbolically effective cruciform lift (on a big music cue) and thecarrying of the dead Christ. That, for me, was the more emotionally powerful crucifixion moment - far more so than the actual one (although the lighting burst when the cross blazes out is visually powerful). And - after the petals, and the carrying of Jesus up the steps to be lowered (buried) at the back of the stage - I remained captivated by the beautiful final strains of music and the placing of the flickering tealights on the stage by all the cast members, as a modern 'lest we forget' ritual, complemented by imagery on the screen of a kind of 'tributes' wall, with cards and flowers, similar to those often placed as memorials these days (such as at the site of a fatal car crash,, or on the railings of Crossbones Graveyard in Southwark). It's a very beautiful ending, pointing towards an 'immortality' of some kind, a life after death through being remembered so fondly by so many people (Jesus as 'the light of the world' I suppose, but a blazing cross becomes merely fragile and poignant tiny little dots of light scattered over the steps - although as the main light fades, I notice matching dots of light about, like stars - so perhaps the perspective is larger at the very end?

The lyrics of the songs - by the almost UNACKNOWLEDGED Tim Rice (Andrew - you didn't write the words - stop taking ALL the credit!!!) are so challenging and intelligent. The christian in me (as was) baulks somewhat at the reductive Last Supper 'for all you care, this wine could be my blood...', while the new sceptic in me nods wryly at the 'God as sadist' implications of both the Gethsemane number and all the other fatalistic references to Jesus' passion as pre-ordained death-quest.

The show's themes are not christian themes per se (although see * below)- they include reflections on what happens after you die in a much more human sense; there's a hint of the celebrity culture - of wanting more than anything to be famous - anxiety about being remembered at all, the transition from the man to the myth (Jesus the man to Christ the Superstar), how we mark the passing of the dead, and elevate the person - and (in the case of both Pontius Pilate and Judas) the fear of how one may be(unfairly) remembered....
 (* I suppose the Last Supper becoming Communion  'Do this in remembrance of me' is all about remembering = re-membering,- the bringing alive (!) through a ritual of memory is indeed at the heart of christian faith)

Wanting to be remembered in a particular way - it's about control, really - the desire for control over one's own fate, and the inability to control other people's perceptions of you. There is great emphasis on the death of Jesus being part of God's plan, something Jesus (albeit reluctantly) drives forward - so he (and God) are in control of his fate, not Judas, not Pontius Pilate (and not even Caiphas et al). There is deep irony and tragedy in Judas' anguished cry to an absent (about to be crucified) Jesus, as he prepares to hang himself  'You have murdered me'.

The 'could we start again' song - the desire to re-write the script, fearing how the story looks like it is going to end - feels like part of the theme of fate as someone's script - catching out those who thought they were in a rather different story.

(By the way - I found the sudden dispersal at the end of the Heal me Christ song jarring once again. It's a disturbing and powerful scene, but the impact just evaporates on the line 'Heal yourselves!' when they don't allow even a 'beat' before scurrying off to allow Mary to pass straight into the reprise of 'Try not to get worried...')

The Jesus in this show - partly deliberately as an interpretation, and partly through the limited charisma of the person playing the role - is definitely lacking in appeal. There is a hollowness at the centre - as if he never was anything very special - and all the hype, the poster boy image (on the Believe posters) is concocted like spun sugar around an empty space.

Tonight, for the first time, during the big JCS number, I saw Judas as diabolic - certainly in that song he seems to be taunting Jesus (in the hallucination) as if he - Judas - were the very devil himself. So is that Jesus's projection onto Judas, or is that an element in the story through-out? (certainly in church tradition Judas was seen as having fallen for the seductive whisperings of the devil....Damned (to hell) for all time...(Note to self - I must re-read that wonderful play about the Last Judgement of Judas Iscariot).

Blog to be further edited and expanded - if I get around to it. But rather than leave this as a draft in suspended animation, PUBLISH AND BE DAMNED!

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