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JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR ARENA TOUR

SYNOPSIS:
The last seven days of Jesus Christ (Ben Forster) leading up to his crucifixion, as seen through the eyes of Judas Iscariot (Tim Minchin). This new production was filmed on October 4 & 5, 2012 at London's 02 Arena.

Review by Louise Keller:
Propelled by the timeless and unforgettable music and lyrics of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's musical, this filmed Arena production explodes onto the screen with all the intensity, pathos and veracity of a theatrical musical experience. With contemporary design and staging utilising multi camera set ups, constantly evolving screens with newsreel footage, funky graphics and a simple wide stairs setting (stairway to Paradise), there is a harmonious fusion about the work that allows the drama of live musical theatre with its potent intimate performances to mesh effectively.

I have seen many versions and incarnations of Lloyd Webber's masterpiece and have sung its music during my years as a professional singer, and was surprised by the emotional impact the film elicits. The intensity of the subject matter is reflected through the performances as well as the superb direction and editing.

Surprisingly perhaps, it is Pontius Pilate's final song (Trial Before Pilate), in which Pilate's tormented quandary of decency, duty and self preservation that twisted the knife in my heart. "Die if you want to; you misguided martyr. I wash my hands of your demolition..." These are potent words and Broadway star Alexander Hanson, who wins performance honours, pleads with heartbreaking veracity. There are powerful performances all round while that extraordinary music, with its vocally demanding songs and musician-challenging tempos is as fresh today as when it was written in 1971, by the then 21 year old Lloyd Webber.

Performance wise, the intriguing combination of a talent quest winner, a comedian rock-star, a pop icon, a radio DJ and a Broadway stalwart makes for a powerful dynamic. Ben Forster, who won Lloyd Webber's singing TV contest Superstar for the part of Jesus is suitably charismatic and heroic with a wide vocal range (his version of Gethsemane, when Jesus shares his doubts and vulnerabilities with God is one of the production's highlights). When Australian comedian and rock musician Tim Minchin makes his theatrical entrance as Judas, he exudes the same kind of raw energy that Jon English delivered on stage in the Harry M. Miller stage show in the 70s. Minchin has great presence in the role and the long dreadlocks, kohl eye-liner and tattoos make a strong visual statement.

Former Spice Girl Melanie C brings complexity to Mary Magdalene, squeezing every little bit of emotion through voice and performance. The black jacket she wears over her white dress is removed symbolically after her labia-coloured lips become virginal pink in an onscreen denouement. UK radio DJ Chris Moyles delivers the crowd-pleasing Herod's song with a TV game show backdrop; the delicious choreography in which he effects tricep presses on the stair set is a wonderful touch.

There is much to say about the production, with its ever-changing choreography, diverse costumes (I love the angels in white ballet corsets with wings and suspenders) and fabulous staging. Instilling the feeling of live musical theatre with its immediacy and power, this is one version of Jesus Christ Superstar you should not miss.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
If only Jesus had had a facebook page ... that's what the ghost of Judas is suggesting when he ponders why JC didn't come to us in the era of mass communication. And in this new production, that message is picked up as the cue to reframe the story in today's idioms. There are laptops and tablets and smartphones, and there are projections at the back of the huge arena stage with twitter feeds supplementing the action.

It is as inventively translated for modern audiences as was Baz Luhrmann's film of Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet (1996), and as rigorously faithful to both the lyrics and the music. London's massive 02 Arena demands a large scale production, and this one is that. It is a remarkably successful fusion of theatre and film; the staging and design of the arena stage, with the close ups and editing possibilities of cinema.

It's a musical, so the music is all important - but these days we need hardly dissect the underlying work, which I regard as Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's greatest collaboration, the rock opera which opened on Broadway in 1971. I have seen several productions of it on stage and on screen, and none have lived up to the original Sydney production in 1972. This one does. It does because it refreshes the work in a singular way, and surprises us.

By setting it in the world of street protests and social media activism, the producers have bled much of the religion out of it. The establishment characters (Romans and the High Priests) wear slightly stylised conservative clothes (eg suits) while the apostles and followers wear street clothes we instantly recognise from any Uni campus. This alone brings the work closer to us. The staging is also full of symbolism from the world around us today, cleverly retooled to fit the context. It begins with edited newsreel footage to get us in the right mindset and instead of trying to squeeze the narrative into today's events, it simply draws some parallels - as far as it can, anyway.

The performances are vital, especially as this is a filmed stage production, which means the cameras capture faces in close up, calling for the actors to perform for both platforms - a real challenge. Play it large for the stage, play it minimal for the screen. The leads are all superb, only Ben Forster using grimaces too heavily for the screen, to satisfy the needs of the stage. But he has a superb voice and his overall impact is effective.

Tim Minchin is the star as Judas; this noir production sharpens our view from his POV and it makes for a more dramatic, satisfying and moving experience. Melanie Chisholm is riveting as Mary Magdalene, both vocally and in performance, while Alex Hanson makes a powerful and complex characterisation as Pontius Pilate. The High Priest duo of Peter Gallagher as Caiphas and Gerard Bentall as Annas are magnificent, too; The traditional showstopper is delivered by Chris Moyles as King Herod in the lurid red outfit of his Hark for Harold TV quiz show. Yes, really.

The stereo band - positioned on platforms on each side of the giant stage - rocks hard when required, but also caresses the score with finesse when required.

In a word, superlative.

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THE BACKSTORY
Andrew Lloyd Webber

CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 2
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR ARENA TOUR (Exempt)
(UK, 2012)

CAST: Tim Minchin, Ben Forster, Melanie Chisholm, Chris Moyles, Alex Hanson, Pete Gallagher, Gerard Bentall, Michael Pickering, Giovanni Spano,

SCRIPT: Tim Rice

MUSIC: Andrew Lloyd Webber

RUNNING TIME: 103 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Universal

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 8, 2012 (one week only)







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