I first saw Superstar at least twenty years ago at the Princess Theatre in Launceston. Then it was Marcia Hines, Jon English and Doug Parkinson (I think). It’s so long ago that the only part I still remember is a crazy Christian guy on the steps outside the theatre trying to deter us from entering as he handed out leaflets on why the show was Satanic.
I wonder what he would have thought of the words we sang to the music as school kids, about Jesus’ reaction to a cop while on his Yamaha. I had no concept of what I was singing at the time, until my sister dobbed me in. Out came the Worcestershire sauce, with a spoonful onto my blaspheming tongue.
This new production of Superstar has been revamped to reflect modern times and issues facing us in the 21st century.
The show starts with jarring electric music and images on a screen portraying riots, police, and discontent among the people, under the slogan, ‘Rome lies’. The stage and set are stark — concrete steps in front of a grey building defaced by graffiti, and protesting youth sleeping in tents around a fire. I read later the set was inspired by the ‘Occupy London’ movement, and this is exactly where you’d expect to find a modern-day Jesus, among those fighting the wealth and power of the corporates, today’s equivalent of the Roman rulers.
Close-ups of the performers’ faces are beamed to the audience via the screen, so that at times, it felt more like a movie than a stage show. (My middle-aged eyesight did appreciate this aspect.)
Tim Minchin, as everyone has already said, is faultless. His voice has a timbre that captures the guilt-ridden Judas. Ben Forster gave us a humble Jesus who always knew his fate. His ‘Gethesmane’ gave me goose bumps and the sight of the shackled, shuffling Jesus in orange prison garb made me think of David Hicks and Guantanemo. Mel C as Mary Magdalene soothed not only the troubled Jesus with her rendition of ‘Everything’s All Right’ — most of the audience wanted to melt into her hands, too. The audience greeted Jon Stevens arrival on the stage with a cheer, and for his mellow voice alone, the show was worth it. Gerard Bentall, who played Annas, I only realised later was not Paul McDermott — looks like him, sounds like him — and Cavin Cornwall, who plays Caiaphus, has a voice as deep as Paul Robeson’s. Andrew O’Keefe as game show host Herod provided humour in his sparkling red suit, especially when he asked viewers to SMS their vote on “Is Jesus Lord or fraud?’
The ending left the 15,000 audience in silence, such was its impact. It took a good few seconds for us to pull ourselves out of the show, and return to the arena. Only then did we remember to applaud, and a standing ovation followed.
Beg, borrow or steal, do whatever you have to do, to see this show. Not only is it a superb cast and a great spectacle, its message and its music have stood the test of time.