Church Hill Theatre, Edinburgh
I’m by no means a big fan of Andrew Lloyd Webber (and I’m an atheist to boot) but I have to admit that I’ve always had a soft spot for Jesus Christ Superstar. Back in 1971, the ‘rock opera concept album’ (as it was originally styled) had a revered place in my vinyl collection and was played on a regular basis, much to the consternation of my flatmates. I genuinely believe that Webber’s rock inflected melodies and Tim Rice’s acerbic lyrics are one of the great musical partnerships of the seventies. It’s an ambitious show for a student group to take on, but EUSOG are good at rising to a challenge and, in this stirring, gender-blind production, they attack the familiar material with their customary brio.
Of course, at the the heart of the musical lies the adversarial relationship between Jesus (Roza Stephenson) and Judas (Hollie Avery), but there are plenty of other opportunities to shine and director Izzy Ponsford ensures they are not ignored. There’s a stately performance from Gordon Stackhouse as Pontius Pilate, a man haunted by the fact that his name will be forever associated with the murder of an innocent. Sofia Pricolo handles Mary Magdalene’s plaintive ballads with aplomb and actually manages to coax tears from me during I Don’t Know How to Love Him. As Herod, Joey Lawson offers a jaunty, crowd-pleasing turn, complete with flashy tap dancing, while Theo Chevis and Kathleen Davie convince in their chilling double act as the priests, Caiaphas and Annas.
But more than anything else, JCS is an ensemble piece, so hats off to the huge chorus of disciples and acolytes, who breathe life into this Biblical extravaganza. Emily Bealer’s exuberant choreography is perhaps the standout of the production, but the music is excellent too: a twelve-strong band under the joint supervision of Emily Paterson and Falk Meier, providing note-perfect renditions of all those memorable songs.
It’s also nice to see a EUSOG production in the comparative luxury of the Church Hill Theatre – we’ve seen them perform in a variety of locations and this is the best venue so far.
I leave humming one of my favourites songs – Could We Start Again Please?- having been thoroughly entertained.