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Jesus Christ Superstar

02 London

Amongst a crowd of around 18,000, on a Friday night in East London, Andrew Lloyd Webber witnessed Jesus Christ Superstar as he "had imagined it 42 years ago". 

The new Superstar is awesome. It is real "rock opera” – cutting political comment, swathes of dancers, resounding solos and everything turned up to 11.

The lights go down and we are drawn in by mock news footage depicting a nation gripped by anti-capitalist riots. It is in this context of Occupy tents, kettling and political unrest that Jesus and the disciples begin Holy Week.

As a long-term fan of the musical, I was amazed by the freshness that clung to this version. This was Superstar for the Facebook generation, and without the tacky feel often associated with that.

Ben Forester as Jesus (pictured above) takes the breath away – with the audience in the palm of his hand in Gethsemane. Many a church leader knows something of the prayer 'I've tried for three years ... seems like 90'.

But what about the stars all around him? Mel C is exhilarating as Mary Magdalene – aware of the sexual connotations of her character, without becoming the clingy Jesus-plus-one. Could we start again please brings tears to the eyes.

Chris Moyles, the cult hero of said Facebook generation, received huge cheers for walking onto the stage. Herod is written for him and he completely owns it. Whether his voice and stage presence are enough for a late career in musical theatre is up for debate.

Speaking of which, I thought Judas was going to be the role Tim Minchin was born to play. Yes, he's brilliant: his voice is pure, his characterization beautiful, his stage presence unquestionable. In the final few moments, however, he threatens to undermine the entire production.

Superstar is a painful story, ending on Good Friday. Whilst there is no resurrection, there is a moment of hope in the finale that captures something of Jesus Christ, superstar. In this version, however, Tim Minchin carries out his own irony-laden attack on Christianity.

Personally, I find most of Minchin's views on religion insightful, helpful and funny. There is, however, a time and place. In this context his tambourine-bashing praise of the crucified Christ leaves a bitter taste in the mouth after a sumptuous feast of musical theatre. Save it for the comedy show, Tim.

This aside, it's the best version of Superstar ever, and the best musical this year. It does make you wonder what the Church could be doing to persuade more people there on Friday night that the story doesn't end there. It begins anew on Sunday morning. 

Tim Baker is an intern at the Methodist Recorder

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