Hannah Playhouse, Wellington

09/05/2017 - 13/05/2017

Production Details

A classic rock opera of the 1960s revived with a distinct contemporary flavour!  

The year is 33 AD. The place is Jerusalem. Judas feels that Jesus is doing the cause of the Jews in Jerusalem no favours – he is becoming too popular as a leader, with large crowds gathering in support of him in the streets. Judas is concerned this will upset the Roman rulers and make the situation worse for everyone. So Judas betrays Jesus to the authorities and so causes his public trial and his eventual very public death. 

Past and future collide in this unusual yet faithful take on Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s score and lyrics.  

How might this story look in 2017? 

Is Jesus a Messiah? Or just misguided? Can he make Jerusalem great again?

Staged in an intimate setting at the Hannah Playhouse by only fourteen young performers from all over Wellington, with direction by Sarah Delahunty and musical direction by Justin Pearce.

An exciting change of venue after the November earthquake will bring a different look to the production – and to the Hannah Playhouse.

With many decades experience between them Justin and Sarah have worked together frequently, including the critically acclaimed “Hair” in 2012 and “After Juliet” at Circa 2014.

Justin Pearce is Co-Head of the diverse and experimental Music Department at Onslow College.

Sarah Delahunty has written and directed many youth theatre productions including award winners such as 2b or nt 2b, Eating The Wolf and Affinity.

Hannah Playhouse
Tues 9th – Sat 13th May 2017
8 pm
Tickets: $18 / $12

JESUS  William Briscoe
JUDAS   Huia Haupapa
MARY   Brianna Anglesey
PILATE  Alex Ker
CAIAPAHAS  Francie Heggarty-Drummond
ANNAS  Jared Lee
MR PRIEST  Samuel Randell
HEROD  Pauline Ward
SIMON  Raquel Abolins-Reid
PETER  Bianca Twort
Elisha Day, Zoe Stocks, Fraser McCabe, James Millsworkman

Jono Weston:  Keyboard
Jasper West:  Guitar
Evan Oijordsbakken:  Bass Guitar
Noah Spargo:  Drums

SET:  Sarah Delahunty Justin Pearce
Lighting Design: James Millsworkman, Justin Pearce 

Theatre , Rock Opera ,

Epic challenge to today’s values

Review by Jo Hodgson 11th May 2017

Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s iconic rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar brought a new style of Broadway musical to the stage which wasn’t as popular then as it is now, and due to its storyline it was heavily criticised and condemned by some religious groups.

The story is based on New Testament accounts of Jesus’s life from his arrival in Jerusalem to his crucifixion, with emphasis on the relationships between friends, enemies and followers in a pivotal moment in history.

It was written in the 1970s, a time of great change in the political, scientific, economic and social development in the world, with the divide between east and west was lessening, and women and gay rights activists were taking to the streets – as they are now – in their quest for equality. The post-war consensus was breaking down with the rise of neoliberalism and the first Apple computers were entering the home.

Fast forward to the rapid technological and social upheavals of 2017 where this production is set, and we’re taken into an urban warehouse space. Posters on the walls indicate the campaigns, in the office of an idealistic political party, for gender equality, climate change and the power of voting.

From the outset, we can see the commitment of the performers. Huia Haupapa’s emotional singing in the opening number, ‘Heaven on their Minds’, sees Judas Iscariot struggling with her support for party leader Jesus (William Briscoe) before the office is flooded with a throng of volunteers (disciples), all on their phones and computers trying to find out what the buzz is.  

So begins an epic ride through this story and music I know so well. The audience has been asked to refrain from applauding until the end which makes the tension and release moments between characters and songs more intense and we get to see the deep human conflicts peak and unravel without breaking the connection.  

Director Sarah Delahunty takes these young actors on a journey to look deeply into their characters and to go way beyond just telling one level of a story. By setting a story already full of personal conflict and judgement in today’s social and tech-dependent climate, they are commenting on our times overrun with the bombardment of media, opinion and fake news. With the instant and FOMO (fear of missing out) conditioning of the online world, it challenges one to take ownership of actions; to be oneself and not a blind follower.

The music from the outset gives a feeling of the relentless drive through to the inevitable and the band, under musical director Justin Pearce, are perfectly balanced and slick in their groove. 

The costumes give a familiar and everyday feel so we can relate to these characters and the lighting brings effective nuance and menace to various scenes.

The relationships between the groups of characters are well played. Caiaphas (Francie Haggarty-Drummond) as a red power jacket-clad Theresa May type character, leads the antagonist Pharisees (Jared Lee and Samuel Randall) to see through the destruction of Jesus.

Brianna Anglesey portrays Mary Magdalene with touching subtlety while William Briscoe brings out the conflict and fear of Jesus’s plight while also showing his contempt for the self-absorbed ways of his friends.

Alex Ker’s Pilate is mesmerising. He manages to convey the huge dilemma of Pilate’s desperation to do the right thing legally while ultimately succumbing to crowd pressure in his desire to stay in power.

Herod – with Pauline Ward’s focused high lyrical sound – is still a caricature but this time more like Kristin Chenoweth singing ‘Popular’ from Wicked.

The crowd scenes with their work hard/play hard mentality of modern society are dynamic, loud, forceful and chaotic, ever changing their collective viewpoint which at times becomes a grotesque mass of non-individual thought. There is an incessant presence and disturbing voyeurism of being obsessively connected to screens and yet often completely in disconnect and complicit in their ‘wasn’t our fault’ observations. The acting and portrayal of all the characters and chorus is excellent. 

Overall, the singing is absolutely fantastic with brilliant storytelling and its emotional charge. However, this score stretches these young adult voices to the very edges of, and sometimes beyond, their ranges and technical abilities, and some are taken to a harshness of sound that – with my singing teacher hat on – worries me.

I enjoy the decision to use female actors for several of the male roles – particularly as the story has been brought up to 2017 and so it’s in keeping with the equality theme – but it does mean some jumping around with pitch changes. Most of them work, although it’s a bit surprising when, singing along in your head as you have to do with this musical, they go in a different direction to what I am expecting.  I would love to hear Francie’s Caiaphas staying in more of her strong rich mid-range.  

The crucifixion is deftly handled with a surprising twist which really makes you think (it has, in hindsight. been cleverly set up throughout). 

So, I guess the question in 2017 is still – will everything be alright?


Make a comment

Wellingon City Council
Aotearoa Gaming Trust
Creative NZ
Auckland City Council