Theatre review: Jesus Christ Superstar is a triumph

FULL COLOUR: The cast of Jesus Christ Superstar at Pendle Hippodrome Theatre.

FULL COLOUR: The cast of Jesus Christ Superstar at Pendle Hippodrome Theatre.

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The greatest story ever told had a local audience gripped with sheer awe and emotion on Wednesday night.

It was the second evening of Pendle Hippodrome Theatre Company’s production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” and it was one of the most powerful performances this theatre has possibly ever seen.

Never before have I sat in a theatre where the production is so emotional that the whole audience was completely silent for several long minutes – the quiet and stillness palpable as Jesus’s crucifixion scene was dramatically played out.

Producer Howard G. Raw in his programme notes said he had tried to create a fast moving production full of energy, passion and power. Well, he ticked all the boxes and more.

Being a practising Christian possibly made it all the more heartfelt for me as the story of the final days of Jesus’s life was played out in this rock opera. But my non-believing friend was equally impressed with the sheer storytelling power as the tragedy unfolded.

There is no dialogue in this Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice production so it needs good strong voices and dramatic performances and the cast, of mainly young people, did it justice.

There were remarkably strong performances from Jack Herbert as Jesus, Gary Leonard as Judas and Jess Balderstone as Mary Magdalene. What a threesome! The two young men had to really extend their voice range to opera-like heights to deliver Lord Lloyd Webber’s music, while Jessica’s outstanding voice was wonderfully moving as she played out the role of the Scarlet woman who became Jesus’s devoted follower.

Gary’s portrayal of the deeply troubled Judas was a revelation as he made the whole stage his own living through a whole gamut of emotions as he betrayed Jesus to the authorities . Then, no longer able to live with his guilt, his hanging scene was shockingly real. This role was a real test for any actor and he succeeded in making you feel sympathy for the hated character and his untimely end.

The part of Jesus Christ comes into its own in the second act of this show as we reach the last supper, the arrest in the garden of Gethsemane and finally the crucifixion. It is an emotionally and physically draining role and Jack Herbert was well casted. As always, he sang superbly, and these are no easy songs to master. When things run fairly seamlessly you know that a lot of effort and hard work has gone into it and he took this role and made it very believable.

Well done to all three, but also to every cast member who brought this noisy, theatrical production to life. The authority figures were nasty and aggressive, the apostles lost and confused, but all adding so much importance to the overall production. There were also excellent performances from Sam Crabtree as the modern day self-obsessed King Herod as he brilliantly mocked and belittled Jesus as he pranced about the stage. And Richard Sanderson demonstrated his acting skills and strong singing voice as he strutted the stage as the very important Pontius Pilate who wanted nothing to do with the trial and crucifixion.

This version of “Jesus Christ Superstar” was bang up to date. There were no costumes from the period, but modern day dress, riot police, gangs of protesters as the age old story was parallelled with real life on the streets in 2014.

The crucifixion scene was completely overwhelming and moving and so well done that the stage team deserve huge congratulations. Pulling this production together must have been a logistical nightmare but they did it almost faultfree. The set was dramatic and the vital lighting effects very well done.

Musical director Richard Patel and his orchestra take a bow for adding the wow factor as they played out the so many memorable numbers in this show. And all sung movingly by the principals and chorus.

“Jesus Christ Superstar” is a triumph that continues tonight and tomorrow. Ring the box office for ticket details on 01282 863210.