Before a note is sung on the opening night of this arena-touring Andrew Lloyd Webber revival, there’s already a waft of anachronism about it. This is after all, a show whose attempts at cutting-edge modernisation involved picking its lead via flop ITV talent show Superstar. Which lends it all the contemporary credibility of an uncle dancing at a wedding.
And, surprise surprise, a pall of ludicrousness hangs over director Laurence Connor's revival of Webber and Time Rice's 1971 smash like the smell of the bland, overpriced burritos in the foyer. Disembodied social networking messages like ‘Wots the buzz?’ [sic] float across designer Mark Fisher's backdrop of pseudo-Banksy murals as crusties set up pop-up tents in an attempt to recast Jesus's disciples as the Israeli equivalent of the Occupy movement. Mel C is a riot grrl Mary Magdalene whose insurrectionary kit includes a little essential oil for a shoulder rub down. Tim Minchin’s a dreadlocked Keffiyeh-sporting Judas Iscariot who lugs his black backpack around as a curious post-7/7 signifier of evil. A bevy of white corset clad babes in angel wings suggest the Garden of Gethsemane was some kind of Judean Manumission. And in recasting the Roman establishment not just as overcoat-wearing city bankers, but as a clan whose logo also contains an Illuminati-referencing triangle, it’s a wonder the characters don’t wander onto stage with the word 'Eeeeevilll' tattooed onto their foreheads.
There’s no doubting the brilliance of the cast, though. Minchin’s the stand-out: a tour de force of wobbly-eyed emotion and vocal intensity. Mel C’s eminently likeable turn might just be the most credible thing she’s done this century. Even Chris Moyles, who infests a crushed red velvet suit as a bizarre Jeremy Kyle-esque TV chat show host version of Herod manages an inoffensive charisma. And granted, Superstar winner Ben Forster’s Jesus does engage in a face-off with Judas that becomes a testicle-rupturing falsetto-geddon of unbridled ridiculousness. But hey, that’s basically what he’s here for.
Connor's production struggles to hang together. Attempting a hyper-modern, zeitgeist-channelling staging of a distinctively retro-sounding rock opera leads to bits that jar. It’s a bit like Black Lace staging a gig in Fabric. It’s like a Jim Davidson stand-up show on E4. It’s like Andrew Lloyd Webber trying to clothe himself in the trappings of a member of UK Uncut. Oh wait: that’s what it is. Still, there’s no ignoring the rapturous whoops of the enormodome audience. Suspend your disbelief and there’s an enjoyably daft experience to be had here.
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