REVIEW: Jesus Chris Superstar – Ventnor Theatre Group

When I first heard Ventnor Theatre Group were staging this show, I had mixed feelings – it is my favourite Lloyd-Webber/Rice musical so I was delighted – but the score is notoriously difficult to perform, so I wondered how they would ever find a cast to really do it justice. I need not have worried – this cast more than did the show justice – they absolutely smashed it, from the first note to the last.

The orchestra, directed by Tony Careless, was an integral part of the show’s success from the overture, as were the dancers, their bright routine tellingly juxtaposed with sword-wielding Roman soldiers.

As soon as Steve Jones came on stage as Judas to belt out the opening number, Heaven On Their Minds, I knew we were in for a treat. Superstar tells the story of Jesus’ death from Judas’ viewpoint, but still, making him believable and empathetic is a real challenge. Yet the combination of Steve’s powerful voice and acting brought me and others in the audience to the verge of tears, especially in numbers such as Damned For All Time.

The Apostles, following the opening number with the ‘What’s The Buzz’, highlighted the contrast between Judas’ brooding anxiety and their upbeat support for their leader, and Jess Rann as Mary captured the poignant Everything’s Alright perfectly. Not only did Jess’s beautiful voice excel in the best known song from the show, I Don’t Know How To Love Him, but she truly inhabited the character.

The mood changed abruptly with the entrance of Caiaphas: David Kent’s rich voice suited the role perfectly, and he was ably supported by Annas (John Herriman), Leah (Sharon Lock) and two priests.

There were other individual performers who contributed to the rich tapestry of the show, notably Pete Stockman as Pilate: I have seen Pete as an actor but did not know about his singing talent! This combination of skills drew audience sympathy for Pilate’s plight as he was pressured to order the death of the man he had dreamed about, knowing he would be blamed whatever he did.

Joe Plumb’s Herod made the most of his one song – all nipple tassels and camp make up, backed up not only by a line of dancers but a neon sign too; Peter’s denial of Christ was empathetically portrayed by Paul Smith, and the three Soul Sisters and angels supported Judas faultlessly in the iconic Superstar. A special mention must be made of the skill with which Jason Harris wielded and cracked his whip, as the Roman soldier charged with administering the 39 lashes.

Olly Fry as Simon Zealotes showed us the extreme faction of Jesus’s supporters, exhorting his leader to use his power to lead a revolt against Rome – exactly what Judas fears – his fervour counterpointed by Jesus’ sweet Poor Jerusalem.

Nathan Meller was perfectly cast as Jesus, his gentle vocals the antithesis of Judas’ power in their songs together. Nathan’s Jesus was incredibly charismatic, dominating the stage even when others were singing. His scenes with Mary were tender and realistic; he showed us Jesus’ understanding of what was to come, and his love for but growing frustration with his followers. Yet Nathan can do anger and agony too as he showed in the Temple scene and later, evoking our pity in Gethsemane. The Crucifixion was portrayed flawlessly.

Not to take anything away from the performers mentioned above, the success of the show rested on the amazing ensemble and the versatility of the actors showing us the crowd cheering for Jesus, beggars wanting more and more from him, and the onlookers calling for his death – every cast member contributed to the success of the show, as did the director, who is to be congratulated on the staging of the piece; the lighting and sound engineers, and indeed everyone who was in any way a part of this hugely successful production.

You are all genuinely Superstars!

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