REVIEW: Jesus Christ Superstar The Concert (Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre)

Regular readers will know that Mummy and Mrs Mummy don’t get to go to grown-up shows together very often. We usually just take it in turns to see the same show, while the other stays at home with the munchkins. Throw in a pandemic and it’s been a whopping nine months since we headed out to see something as a couple. When Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre announced they were resurrecting their acclaimed production of Jesus Christ Superstar there was no question of us missing it. And with the added risks of rain or the pesky virus scuppering our plans, we decided that this was one that we would have to go and see together. Luckily we are a support bubble for a single friend, who kindly agreed to entertain the munchkins at London Zoo while we made the short trip across Regent’s Park for a heavenly 90 minutes in which everything was more than alright.

This was our first trip to this stunning venue and there couldn’t be a more perfect place to rekindle our relationship with live musical theatre. From the very first guitar chord there was a serious risk that Mummy was going to burst into tears, while even Mrs Mummy conceded that she had goosebumps throughout. Although billed as a concert, this is a full-blown production of Jesus Christ Superstar, which just happens to make some very good use of microphone stands and leads (including a mic drop)! With nods to the current crisis, it’s a bold and contemporary take on the 1970s classic which feels fresh and relevant thanks to Timothy Sheader’s direction and some seriously exciting choreography from Drew McOnie. It’s also an absolutely shining example of diversity in casting.

Although the cast are socially distanced, it’s beautifully done and – for the most part – would not look out of place in pre-covid times (with the exception of the obviously missing physical contact between Jesus and Mary). The energy on the stage is absolutely electric and, with every single member of the ensemble giving their absolute all, it almost feels wrong to single out individuals – although we’re going to do it anyway! Genesis Lynea is captivating as the Mob Leader, while Cedric Neil as Simon brings a new depth to “Simon Zealotes”, a song that might normally get lost among a sea of better-known and harder-hitting numbers. The scenes with the Pharisees are especially entertaining, with a quintet of priests (led by Ivan de Freitas as Caiaphas and Nathan Amzi as Annas) striking the perfect balance between light entertainment and something more sinister. Meanwhile Shaq Taylor nearly brings the house down as the dangerously fabulous (or is that fabulously dangerous?) King Herod. David Thaxton also gives an intense and anguished performance as Pilate, the man who ultimately condemns Jesus to death.

The three lead roles are double cast, with no publicised performance rota (which strikes us as a very good reason to book tickets for multiple performances). We saw the superb trio of Pepe Nufrio as Jesus, Ricardo Afonso as Judas and Maimuna Memon as Mary. Memon sings the role incredibly well, providing softer moments in an otherwise harsh score. A particular highlight is “Could we start again, please?” (which feels like the perfect anthem for 2020) where she blends beautifully with Phil King as Peter. Mamun’s chemistry with Nufrio’s Jesus suffers a little from the enforced physical distance between them but, again, there’s something very 2020 about that. In contrast, the physical distancing between Nufrio and Afonso serves to heighten the tension in a relationship that starts at a simmer and builds to an explosive ending as Nufrio’s young, self-assured Jesus clashes with Afonso’s angry, principled Judas. Both give masterclasses in acting through song. And as for their ridiculous vocals – it’s a good job that the theatre doesn’t have a roof!

Although the auditorium is only operating at around 30% capacity, the appreciative audience still managed to make a decent amount of noise throughout the show, particularly after “Damned for All Time” and “Gethsemane”. The social distancing procedures work well and don’t dampen the experience at all. If anything, it’s quite nice to have a bit more space and unrestricted sightlines (although obviously it will be even nicer to have theatres up and running in an economically viable way – even if it means Mummy has to go back to tutting at noisy eaters in her vicinity). And there are some benefits to wearing a mask at a show, including the ability to mouth along to the lyrics!

Jesus Christ Superstar is not just a watered down, socially distanced concession to people who have been dying to see a show for the last six months. It is proper, powerful musical theatre that will leave you absolutely buzzing. Perhaps too good to see just the once. After all, there’s another set of leads to catch and we probably didn’t get the full effect of the lighting at the matinee – Could we start again, please?……

Jesus Christ Superstar: The Concert is playing at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre until 27 September 2020. We saw the matinee on Sunday 23 August.