Jesus Christ Superstar: A Review
Closing night at one of the most talked about shows in town.
I took my seat at the closing night of The Edinburgh University Savoy Opera Group’s production of Jesus Christ Superstar with a sense of curiosity at what the night’s entertainment might entail. The production has been a hot topic due to its gender-neutral casting, including non-binary lead Roza Stevenson as Jesus, provoking conservative audiences. The production does a fantastic job of breathing new life into an age-old tale, retaining the story line from Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s original version while effectively modernising aspects of the show and spotlighting female and non-binary creatives.
The show followed the dramatic events of Jesus’ last weeks on earth from the perspective of Judas (Hollie Avery), with the story carried by the incredible vocal strength of the entire cast. Sitting in the second row in the Churchill Theatre I felt the full power of these talented students' voices. It goes without saying that the two lead characters were incredible vocalists. Although I felt that Jesus’ vocals perhaps did not have as much depth as other cast members, the way in which they enunciated the lyrics carried their voice above the powerful backing of the ensemble and ultimately helped the audience understand the plot. Even those with relatively small roles, such as Caiaphas (Theo Chevis) and Annas (Kathleen Davie), had incredible stage presence and gave the show some memorable moments, such as when Caiaphas introduced himself to the audience with his shockingly deep bass vocal range. Mary Magdalene (Sofia Pricolo) was another secondary character who stood out, putting on an emotional performance which showcased great singing and acting ability.
In addition to the stellar performances of the main cast, the efforts of the ensemble must be commended. All the ensemble cast put in high energy performances, and they were invested in every moment of the play, whether that was providing off stage choral backing or in their impressive dance choreography. They made the whole production feel incredibly slick and professional as they managed intense dance routines, harmonies and stage actions. They tackled each number with ferocity, and they took the incredible volume of different styles and tones to convey in their stride. From their convincing display of desperation for salvation from Jesus in ‘The Temple’ sequence, to King Herold’s (Joey Lawson) fabulous tap dancing and can-can extravaganza, the ensemble pulled off everything asked of them.
The modernity of this production has obviously been one of the most talked about aspects of the show with the producer, Lew Forman, highlighting the gender-blind casting as “one of the most important aspects of the show”. While it is obviously important and an interesting take on the traditional performance, I found the more subtle interpretations of modernity added more value to the overall production. For example, while the costuming of the ensemble was clearly linked by colour scheme and texture, it was evident that the cast members had also chosen a clothing style in which they felt comfortable. Moreover, humorous details such as the Y2K clubbing clothes and the bong (which made an appearance when the ensemble were not showing proper sanctity at the temple) were excellent touches. It felt like a carefully thought-out modern take; creative choices were well-considered and did not simply serve to add a unique selling point on the play bill or make a political point. Any strays from the traditional aspects of the play enhanced the performance and did not feel separated from the lyrics or story - a real credit to the director and producers.
This interpretation of Jesus Christ Superstar cleverly encapsulates the tradition of the story and the spirit of the opera while reimagining it in a modern, innovative fashion. The much-advertised modernity adds a new dimension to the show, but the true strength and memorability of the production lies in the immense vocal and storytelling ability of all the incredibly talented students involved.