JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR
Meteor Theatre, 1 Victoria Street, Hamilton
07/09/2013 - 21/09/2013
Love. Worship. Betrayal.
Jesus Christ Superstar comes to Hamilton. This urban, contemporary version of one of the world’s most famous rock operas is set in a harsh, unforgiving, industrial reality. The story of Jesus of Nazareth is known by most, but Andrew Lloyd Webbers musical adaptation shows the human side of a man many believe to be the son of God, the fickle nature of those who worshiped him, the woman who loved him and the man who would ultimately betray him.
Nick Wilkinson’s innovative and creative direction, Joel Benjamin Hewlett’s urban and funk inspired choreography and Malcolm Barr’s edgy and impactful musical direction make for the perfect team in producing this modern retelling, set in a capitalist metropolis where the weak and vulnerable constantly look for a way out of an endless cycle of poverty and injustice.
This roller-coaster production will combine many elements of theatre to draw the audience in. Large spectacular numbers (Simon Zealotes, Superstar) will showcase amazing talent, leaving the audience amazed while intimate moments (I Don’t Know How To Love Him, Gethsemane, Judas’ Death) will have people drawn into the emotional torment of the characters.
METEOR THEATRE, Hamilton
Saturday 7 to Saturday 21 September.
Start time 7.30pm
Book at Ticketek: http://premier.ticketek.co.nz/shows/show.aspx?sh=JESUSCHR13
Production Manager - Shaun Bugden
Lighting Designer - Aaron Chesham
Wardrobe Designer - Joy Wright
Inventive, inspired, sensational
Review by Jan-Maree Franicevic 07th Sep 2013
We are gathered in our numbers at Hamilton’s boutique black box theatre The Meteor for the preview performance of Jesus Christ Superstar. The wine and conversation is flowing freely as director Nick Wilkinson calls us to his attention with a whistle. Joking that he has to look at his notes to remember his own name it is clear to see that he is crackling with nervous energy.
The doors open and as I enter the auditorium I am frankly blown away by the set alone. Stark and contemporary, the corrugated iron is smeared with graffiti: “REVOLUTION”, “OCCUPY JERUSALEM” and “DOWN WITH ROME”. I note the band is cannily ensconced behind barbed wire fencing and the whole effect is quite remarkable. I realise that any of my previously held notions that this might be a stodgy, dated nod to a thirty year old musical are dispelled.
The band strikes up and we meet the company. Hats off to costumier Joy Wright who has put together a fantastic overall look which pairs flawlessly with this modern day take on a classic tale. A tale told with haunting accuracy in reference to our present day world. Street people, sin, poverty, rebellion and ruin; a society lost and lacking.
Enter Jesus (Matt Powell). What a guy! Handsome, kind and open faced. Once he opens his mouth and sings it really wouldn’t matter what he looked like, he can belt out quite a tune so it is unsurprising that he is able to unify this discombobulated bunch of folk and make them feel like there’s something more to life.
Interestingly here is where I see the modern twist taken even further. In a stunning parallel to the evangelical style of religion preached by the likes of ‘Bishop’ Brian Tamaki, I get the sense that Judas (Joel Benjamin Hewlett) feels that Jesus has got a little too “me-me” and lost sight of the cause; that for Jesus the Christianity is only second to basking in the glory of his adoring followers, posing for photographs and back chatting the corporate baddies on his smart phone. Is it any wonder that Judas feels it appropriate to dob him in to said baddies?
Annas (Rachel Gasston) skilfully paints a picture of beautiful evil in skyscraper heels. Caiaphas (BevanThomas, struggling with vocal damage), still delivers a great performance plot to take down this glory hound in the board room of their corporate tower. Across town, Pilate (Brian Bevege, who has the voice of an angel and is superb in the role) is in his office. Tapping away on their laptops, dressed in stark black suits, they are a striking essence of modern capitalists.
Of course there’s the love interest: she works in a house of ill repute and it is quite a place; the club scene is set with astonishing reality. It has a barman serving shots to scantily clad women and bawdy blokes in tough duds, complete with poles and pole dancers (which is no easy feat: I tried it once, and it is a LOT harder than it looks) and she is tortured by her love for Jesus.
Mary Magdalene is played by Tina Bergantinos who sings big for such a tiny dot of a woman. Dressed in ripped jeans and high, high heels, I am not only impressed by the tender toughness that she brings to the role, her solo ‘I don’t know how to love him’ brings me to tears. Almost effortlessly she has stepped into the role of the most famous whore in history and delivers with blinding accuracy.
Judas’ shoes are big ones to fill, however Joel Benjamin Hewlett manages with ease. An accomplished choreographer (yes, he has done a marvellous job of choreographing the show too) and singer, he brings a fizz to the role that just sells it so well. We see a man bound by his love for Jesus and for Christianity, but wearied at the fame-monger Jesus has become. In playing him so well, I really get the sense that all Judas wanted was to scare Jesus out of his ego mania; furthermore, that in taking his own life, he avenges Jesus’ horrific end. (After the show I did something I never usually do, I sought Joel out to congratulate him on his work. He is an extremely talented young man.)
Of course, as we all know, the story doesn’t end well for Jesus. More than scared, he is publicly humiliated, paraded on talk show television (spoiler alert: Herod has a talk show and a mini-me!); he is whipped mercilessly and crucified.
Matt Powell gives such life and reality to the incredible battle Jesus has with himself over what he knows is ultimately his fate, his rage at God, the rage at himself and what he has become; he sells the story of the original martyr better than well.
Throughout the show I have to pinch myself to remember that I am watching a show in Hamilton, in little old New Zealand. Every scene’s set, every costume, the overall look and feel of the production, is inventive and inspired. The band, comprising nine players directed by Malcolm Barr, are sensational! They make the noise of a full orchestra are every bit a match to the terrific cast.
I must commend the ensemble who sing, dance and play so well. I have seen far too many shows on a preview or opening (even on a mid-season) night where the ensemble has come across like they have no idea what they are doing, that sadly they could have used a couple more weeks in rehearsal. Not the case here. This is a slick, lithe ensemble who create most of the magic in the show solely through their ability to think, act, sing and dance as one.
I must make a special mention of Danielle Rush who gives a performance that just sticks out, like she has a star over her head. Keep an eye out for this one, I think she’ll go far!
Living in Hamilton is much maligned: apparently we are uncultured no-talents (excepting maybe for rugby), crazy, inbred and have horrendous numbers of sexually transmitted diseases… Let’s not even start on how dangerous the streets are (these are all comments I have legitimately fielded from non-Hamiltonians in the past glorious ten years that I have called this town home). I love it here.
Today I am pleased and proud to announce to all non-Hamiltonians:
Yes, we have street crime, a few STDs and a couple of cousins in love, I’m pretty sure if you look hard enough most places do! If for one minute you think we are uncultured no-talents then get your bum on a seat at The Meteor for easily the best Kiwi production of Jesus Christ Superstar I’ve seen; a show which in every way deserves to be a sell out season for Hamilton’s Fullhouse Productions.
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