Review: 'Jesus Christ Superstar, The Arena Spectacular' at the AIS Arena

Jesus Christ Superstar is a relatively self-explanatory title for this world-renowned musical – it’s much what you would expect from an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical spectacular showcasing the story of Jesus’ final days. It’s an incredible show that is both musically and visually bold, and tells an immensely symbolic and meaningful story, one that can be seen in the AIS Arena’s production of Jesus Christ Superstar – the Arena Spectacular, in what could be said is one of Canberra’s biggest ever theatrical events.

For those not aware, here’s the premise. Jesus, the Son of God, has amassed quite a following. The Pharisees, the leaders of Jerusalem, get jealous of Jesus’ power and want him gone; shenanigans ensue. The main issue with the show is just that though – it very much assumes that everyone present is aware, and that the whole audience is intimately familiar with the story of Jesus. Characters are never really introduced fully, meaning that at points it is difficult and confusing to work out the role and relationship of each person. Jesus was the only character whose identity I was certain of. After all, he was wearing a white robe and people were literally falling over to kiss his feet, and, with a voice like Luke Kennedy’s, he couldn’t be anyone but. To quote one audience member: “Everything was incredible, but I wish I knew who Judas was.”

The set, which utilised vivid lighting and minimalist scaffolding, was a great backdrop for an amazing cast of performers. However at times, the minimalism of the design perhaps didn’t quite live up to the ‘spectacular’ nature of the show, and contrasted the Pharisees’ outfits that seemed garish and over-the-top. They looked like circa 1964 Doctor Who villains, complete with purple mohawks and black cloaks with some ridiculously tall collars. Jesus was also wearing a t-shirt whilst being crucified, which I felt was not quite in the spirit of things – to be honest, I just really wanted to see a shirtless Jesus.

But this is all just nit picking, really, and didn’t detract from what was really important. The music was fantastic and the singing was phenomenal. Luke Kennedy, the runner up of The Voice in 2013, plays Jesus with magnificent stage presence and Jesus Christ can he hit a high note. He, and the rest of the cast, are supported brilliantly by the awesome array of musicians in the orchestra, conducted by Ian Mclean, who smash their way through the big numbers with aplomb, whilst still providing tenderness where needed. An extraordinarily talented Michael Falzon, who as Judas provided a complete and utter investment in his character, matches Kennedy’s clean-shaven visage with an incredible performance.

The lighting design of this production is something that stood out immensely. Virtually every number had its own sequence of delightfully vibrant flashes and flares. I especially enjoyed Herod’s, musical number, played wonderfully by Gordon Nicholson. It contained everything I had hoped the show to be; half-naked men and women doing the can-can while someone covered in a glittery costume belts out a catchy tune.

There are two main reasons not to go, but so many reasons to go. Both are fairly obvious. The first is, don’t go if you don’t like singing. There is a lot of singing. In fact, it’s all singing, plus a little bit more singing. The second is not to go if you dislike hearing about Christianity. This is perhaps very discernible from the title, but this is a show that takes portraying its religious message very seriously. If you want to see a less serious parody of the life of Jesus, just watch Life of Brian again. Probably don’t see Jesus Christ Superstar.

Despite getting the impression that Jesus Christ Superstar was designed to preach to the converted, this production provides an excellent show, one that is impeccably executed and displays real talent, showcasing many of Canberra’s finest musical theatre talents, in the ensemble as well as the lead actors.

 

Jesus Christ Superstar – The Arena Spectacular shows at the AIS Arena until this Sunday, the 7th of June. Student prices are available. More information can be found at http://premier.ticketek.com.au/shows/show.aspx?sh=JESUSCHR15