Back in July, I wrote about Superstar, ITV’s search for the next Jesus Christ. (For the musical. But I wouldn’t be surprised if reality TV does start searching for the next Messiah. Coming soon: Save Our Souls, USA!) You can read it here, and please pay attention to the end, where I state I didn’t think anyone would pay £70+ for a ticket.
Well, this is embarrassing.
In my defence, I brought two tickets for my mum’s birthday present – one for me, and one brought with the help of my brothers for her. And you know what, I happily eat my words from the end of that previous post. I had a great time, the show was brilliant, and I walked away with a ten quid program and fifteen quid t-shirt. (I had a lot of money left over from London.) So, here it goes; my review of Jesus Christ Superstar, Cardiff Motorpoint Arena, 3rd October 2012.
When I heard the show had been modernised and set against the backdrop of the riots, I was really excited. I mentioned in my Footloose review that trying to update it didn’t work, but Jesus Christ Superstar is different. The story itself is timeless, and it’s one of those musicals that should be updated and revised. It worked. The show opened with a news broadcast about the frustration of the common people against those in power in the financial world. After this, the cast came on – some were dressed as riot police, and others looked like they had been picked up from the Occupy camps.
Obviously, any form of violence in musicals is stylised, and I love it. I love seeing dance used to convey fighting, and the way the clash was shown between police and rioters was done well. Above it all, the screen showed Twitter and Facebook updates, with mentions of Jesus and the twelve. Actually, one of the things I really liked was in the use of the backdrop; at the camp where Jesus and his followers gathered, it shows a building, a banner hanging from it with #TheTwelve. Nicely done.
Judas, Jesus, Mary and Herod
My favourites from the show all went out before the finals, but two of the wannabe Jesus’ that stood out to me were in the show – in the ensemble. However, Ben Forster, as it turned out, was a brilliant choice for the main role. He, essentially, nailed it, playing the part of Jesus with all the doubt and fear that the role needs. Since the TV show, he seems to have really come into his own, stepping into the role and hitting the all important high notes in Gethsemane. During that particular song, my eyes were ringing.
Considering the backdrop of the show, Tim Minchin was a perfect choice for Judas. He fits in with the feel of it, and, again, managed to convey the emotions needed for the part. You can really feel the love triangle vibe between him, Jesus and Mary, and can really see him desperately trying to find a way to make things right in his eyes. One of my favourite songs belongs to Judas – it makes up part of the opening, and has Judas proclaiming “No talk of God, then we called you a man”. He is, really, the stand in for the audience; questioning and wondering about Jesus, and nowadays, especially, his role seems more important as Atenism seems to grow larger while the Church grows smaller. At times, you really feel yourself siding with him – not just because he doubts Jesus, but because he loves him.
Love at first riot
Mel C as Mary was…well, she wasn’t awful, or bad. I just wasn’t a huge fan. Don’t get me wrong, I grew up on Spice Girls like every other 90’s kid, and I can remember the excitement girls my age felt when they appeared on the scene. To us, they were amazing, and new, and no matter how you think of them now, I do think they inspired a lot of girls (when I was a kid, anyway) to be themselves. Some of my friends still have a soft spot for The Spice Girls. But I don’t think a role like this suited Mel C. Her voice doesn’t suit it, and even with the modern feel to the whole thing, it didn’t feel like she quite fit in. Mind you, Mary’s role isn’t that huge in the musical. The story really does focus on Judas and Jesus. But, of course, one of the most famous songs from the show belongs to this character, and I couldn’t help but cringe slightly when Mel C performed ‘I Don’t Know How To Love Him’. (For the record, my mum liked it.) I said in my Footloose review that Ren didn’t have enough anger. Here, Mary didn’t have enough sadness. It’s a touching song, because it’s about falling in love when you don’t want, and it has some key lines, especially when relating to Jesus. (He’s just a man.) I love songs about resisting love; I Won’t Say (I’m In Love), I’ll Never Fall In Love Again, I could go on. But the same feeling in those, the same essence of Disney’s Meg in Hercules should come through with Mary. That sadness about realising he’s not just a man should be there, and she just didn’t have it.
Plus, some of the symbolism in the song was a bit too overdone. They – perhaps the person who directed, rather than just Mel C – seemed to be trying to reflect Mary’s transition from whore to non-whore (?) in a way that was a bit too heavy-handed for me. Oh, look, she’s wiping off her make-up, and taking off her leather jacket, and now she’s in a white dress! She’s pure now! As much as I like Mel C, it just didn’t work. And, again, her voice did not suit the role.
Leather jackets, now in new ‘impure prostitute’ style!
And, finally, King Herod. A lot of people who I mentioned the show to seemed to cringe at the idea of Chris Moyles in a musical and, more importantly, Chris Moyles singing. He doesn’t seem to have the voice that would suit a musical – but, of course, most people would have only heard him on morning radio. To me, it seemed to be an interesting choice, and of course, Herod has one song in the show. The song itself needs a lot of punch, sarcasm and wit, and I didn’t feel too hesitant about seeing Moyles in the role. In truth, there wasn’t a hell of a lot of singing in this version of the song, but the parts that did involve singing…Moyles pulled it off, and brilliantly. He had the whole attitude down, and the addition of making him a talk show host fit perfectly. The setting leant itself to the way they decided to do this one; Herod as a talk show host, inviting the ‘audience’ to vote on whether Jesus is a ‘Lord or Fraud’. (I’m not sure if they forgot how Ben Forester got the role…) He has the charm you’d expect, and the wit is all there, as well as some wonderful additions in the screen at the back of the stage.
The Saviour of Radio One vs The Saviour of Mankind
Overall, it was a great show. The ensemble gelled together, as they should in musicals like this, and the fresh setting really added to the story. Whether Christian, Atheist or anything else, it’s a story you can appreciate. It has, after all, endured for two thousand years (give or take), and back when they wrote it, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice took this tale and created something amazing from it. To me, the musical is a great way of retelling the last few days of Jesus, in a way that you can enjoy it without having to believe in it. And it lends itself to being modernised and retold time and time again. If I could, I would have loved to shake the hands of everyone involved and just say “Well done”. But, I can’t, so I’ll just praise them here, instead.
Which brings me onto what happened after the show.
I kind of wanted to meet the main cast. And why not? Mum and I wandered around to the back of the CIA (sorry, Motorpoint Arena. Which will always really just be CIA to me) and saw a few others waiting there. Always a good sign. We stood around, where one of the women asked who we were hoping to see. I kind of shrugged. “Anyone.” A few years ago, I met The Used waiting outside the back entrance, and it was also how I managed to meet my favourite Joseph from Any Dream Will Do. (Are you noticing a trend?) Sometimes, it pays off. Sometimes, like that night, it doesn’t.
Well, two of the guys who were in Superstar did come out and happily signed things for the small group of us either side of the gates who were waiting. They signed programmes, had photos taken, and looked happy doing so. With that in mind, in case Jeff or Tim ever do read this, thank you. It may not seem like a lot, but just taking the time to put up with people yelling your name left right and centre is kind of a nice thing to do, especially when you could have just carried on walking. Clearly, a lot of people there had been fans of Superstar, and damn did they look happy holding their signed items.
There can be only one…(but those who don’t come first usually do better in the long run, so there is that…)
It didn’t take long for them to get around everyone. There really weren’t many of us waiting there. A guy next to me clutched his Chris Moyles book, while a teenage boy on the other side told of how he’d waited two hours, in the rain, the night before, hoping to meet Tim Minchin. He mentioned how, after two hours, the main cast just got in a van and drove past. And yet this kid was back, ready to try his luck again. For his sake, (and, selfishly, a bit mine) I hoped that night’s Judas would come out. I wouldn’t have been surprised if Mel C and Chris Moyles hadn’t, but for some reason, I did think Tim Minchin and Ben Forster would perhaps meet the fans.
If you haven’t guessed by now, I was disappointed.
After an hour of waiting, the security guards told us that ‘they’ were going to get in the black van we could see waiting and go. They moved the barriers, and we could do nothing but watch as Mel C, Chris Moyles, Tim Minchin and Ben Forster drove past us. Part of me felt angry; okay, maybe they weren’t supposed to meet us, but if that was the case, why make us wait at all? Mel C and Chris Moyles – nothing against either, as I don’t know – I could understand, on some level. After all, they’ve both been around a fair while and you do kind of expect people like that to just not care.
Maybe I’m naive, to think a comedian and musician who at the start of their careers would have really, really needed their fans (for Tim Minchin, maybe a while ago, but Ben Forster, not so much) would have actually come out to meet them. Having gone to a few amateur comedy nights, I realised how much a good fan base can do for someone on the comedy circuit. So, yeah, I thought he’d make an effort. But, again, maybe he’s just been around for long enough now to not bother.
But, seriously, Ben, if you’re ever reading this, remember who put you there. It wasn’t just Andrew Lloyd Webber. You weren’t cast by struggling through West End auditions and trying to get every part you could and praying for a big break. Maybe you have done that, in the past, maybe you have paid your dues, but that’s not how you got the role of Jesus. You got to play Jesus because of the British public. Because people voted for you.
I would love to be in a position one day where people want my autograph, even if it’s only a small group of people who just happen to love my books. I would love to be able to say “I have fans”, and if I ever reach a stage where, for some reason and in some situation, I just go “Nah”, I’ve already asked my mum to slap me around the head and tell me to stop being stupid. Because I’ll remember that teenage boy’s face as, for the second night in a row, his idol just drove right past him, because, for whatever reason, they just didn’t want to meet their fans.