Staging Jesus Christ Superstar In Concert was always going to be ambitious. It is a complex score with multiple key changes which would give pause to any vocalists cast in the leading roles.
Let me preface the rest of this piece by saying I saw the original stage production at Sydney's Capitol Theatre in 1973, which starred Trevor White as Jesus, Jon English as Judas, Michele Fawdon as Mary Magdalene, Reg Livermore as King Herod, and Stevie Wright as Simon. I later saw the concert version with epic cast John Farnham - Jesus, Kate Ceberano - Mary Magdalene, Jon Stevens - Judas, Angry Anderson - Herod, John Waters - Pontius Pilate, Russell Morris - Simon. This may have clouded my perception of any subsequent staging.
But, the Players Theatre members have never stepped away from a challenge and on the whole, the show is enjoyable with some standout performances.
Although Jesus (Benjamin Copland) takes centre stage, it is the unexpected casting of Cindy Brennan as Judas, Amanda Gordon as Pontius Pilate and Natalie McDonald as Annas that bowls you over.
These ladies, along with Samantha Brennan as Mary Magdalene, are very strong, nailing their characterisations and vocals in some showstopping numbers.
Other strengths are Joshua Licciardello as Peter, Matthew McDonald-Kearns as Simon and the booming bass of Cameron Marshall as Caiaphas, while Mark Garrett's camp King Herod provides the comic relief in the show.
Director Simone Berry, who is also the show's musical director (along with Cate Storen), and plays keys in the band, has given the show a grunge look with a scaffold set and cast members dressed in leather and jeans, with kohl-rimmed eyes. The scaffold works to great effect for the most part except when cast members have to climb down while the show continues, as it steals focus.
The band has the difficult task of mastering the complicated score, but do a great job. I'm not sure about them being in the middle of the stage, but that's just me. However, as the unmistakable overture breaks the silence to open the show, and the lighting strobes over the unsuspecting audience, they do create an impact.
Berry then cleverly creates the effect of the growing throng of Jesus' followers by having Copland weave in and out of the scaffold and wings, bringing more of the ensemble with him each time he enters.
Speaking of the ensemble, Billy Axford, Andrew Toomey, Zach Brennan, Jordan Frith, Amber Baensch, Georgia O'Keefe, Grace Pfab, Bev Star, Jayde Symes and Olivia War, provide excellent harmonies and stirring renditions of the show's big numbers - What's the Buzz, Hosanna, The Temple, and The Arrest.
Aside from a few technical hitches and nerves at the preview this show deserves your attention.