Reviews: An Almighty Hit for the Hippo; Jesus Christ Superstar Birmingham Hippodrome

The Birmingham Post (England), September 2, 2004 | Go to article overview

Reviews: An Almighty Hit for the Hippo; Jesus Christ Superstar Birmingham Hippodrome


Byline: Sid Langley

King Canute knew he couldn't stop those waves. Neither can I. In this case it's waves of applause and they're going to echo for several weeks down at the Hippo. I have many, many reservations about the Tim Rice-Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, now something of a period piece.

(Skip the next paragraph if technicalities do your head in).

I still hate the way a few dominant sevenths and flattened fifths from a Gershwin jumble sale have been bolted on with the Lloyd Webber Black and Decker Workmate to a few flimsy show tunes. There's none of the pentatonic grandeur grown in the rich modal mulch that is rock's natural soil.

Nevertheless, it's the genre-establishing show that brought the full-on rock opera experience to an unsuspecting public in 1971. It was, and still is, more opera than rock - ask the singers who have to deal with the asymmetrical harmonies more suited to the mechanics of instruments than the workings of the human voice box. But punters loved it then and, as Tuesday night's standing ovation proved, they love it now.

Me? Well, to be honest, after Life of Brian, I find the story difficult to take seriously as drama. As an ardent atheist I still think sacred texts are best left to the likes of Bach and Taverner. The show exemplifies a trash aesthetic which one day will end in something like Oedipus Rex on Ice. The Last Supper number is so banal both lyrically and harmonically that it would be easy to present it as a Monty Python piece in itself.

But in spite of all that, I am here to tell you with the benefit of all my many years as a critic (and the odd crucifixion along the way) that this resurrected Bill Kenwright production of the show is something of a miracle.

All the boxes are ticked with a big red crayon - awesome set, great sound (with a terrific band under David Steadman) choreography that bolsters and serves the unrolling narrative rather than trying to draw attention to itself and a terrific lighting plot that's all the more effective for using its big effects sparingly (the death ofGlenn Carter plays the title role in Jesus Christ Superstar Judas, Pilate washing his hands). And on top of that there are performances that are simply state of the art. It don't, as they say, get any better than this.

There's a happy pairing in the lead roles. Glenn Carter is the definitive Jesus. He's done the film, picked up Broadway awards for the part and probably has a franchise in tasteful counterfeits of the Turin Shroud featuring his own face he's so identified with the role. …

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