Jesus Christ Superstar the Concert (15/8/20)

I must admit it’s been a dreadful few months for the arts, we’ve been mostly pushed aside with some theatre’s cancelling shows well into February now, so when I sat in my socially distanced seat in Regents Park Open Air Theatre, and saw a real life cast of performers enter the stage, I cried. As did many of the people around me, with joy and elation at being able to share a theatrical experience with others for the first time in six months.

I have never before witnessed a more powerful opening to a show, with all the cast coming out wearing face coverings that, by now, we are all too familiar with and then on the overture removing them in unison as the crowd cheered for a good five minutes: a release of applause that had built up over lockdown.

The production: Jesus Christ Superstar. And though it may be billed as a concert, I must disagree, this is the JCS that you will know from Regents Park’s Olivier nominated revival in 2017. It has been directed (by Timothy Sheader) and choreographed (by Drew McOnie) so meticulously that at no point do the actors come anywhere within two metres of each other, yet nothing takes away from the spectacular production and storytelling.

The roles of Jesus, Judas and Mary are shared, alternating every performance. This meant we were able to see the brilliant Ricardo Afonso as Judas, Pepe Nufrio as Jesus and Maimuna Memon as Mary. And I was blown away. Ricardo returns to the role with incredible vocal power, his voice is just perfect for this role. Nufrio; also brilliant, putting his own twist onto Gethsemane with effortless ease. And rounding off the three main casts, Memon brings a wonderful softness to Mary that is great to watch. After only three weeks of rehearsal the cast’s chemistry (at a distance of two metres) is amazing.

Of course the rest of the cast (stand outs for me include David Thaxton bringing a powerful evil to Pilate and Cedric Neal bringing infections gospel joy to Simon) are all brilliant. You can see how much it means to them that they are performing to an audience. Every one of them gives 110%… And then some.

I may even say that the distance adds a certain extra layer to this production, with the themes of the longing to connect becoming extremely prominent. The show becomes a masterclass in navigating the guidelines to create great art.

As I come to the end of the review I’d like to bring your attention to one line from the show “I’ve been living to see you… Dying to see you but it shouldn’t be like this. This was unexpected, what do I do now, oh could we start again please?” I feel it perfectly sums up how we have all felt about Theatre, and, although it is sad to see a 1700 seat house be cut to about 300, I salute every single person involved in creating this show. The FOH Staff, the backstage crew, and the cast. You all deserve this run to be the success that it deserves to be. You’re paving the way for live theatre’s return.

Thank you, Open Air Theatre!