Ballarat Boy Shines in Jesus Christ Superstar I have always been wary of modernising a classic piece of theatre. Seeing the original 1972 production of Superstar and many others over the years including directing one in 1995, I understand why Director Gale Edwards has given Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webbers Jesus Christ Superstar a TODAY feel. The problem is it’s all over the place. Judas in a leather Jacket, Jesus with tee shirt and pants, Pilate looking awkward as an out of space Harley Davidson biker, the apostles looking like they were doing West Side Story and even Herod although as camp as he always was, not looking the right fit anymore. He needed to act a little less gay and far more sinister which he didn’t quite W.C. Fields is a true comedy legend and remains one of the most recognisable actors of all time for mature viewers. Born William Claude Dukenfield in 1880 from his early days on stage in vaudeville and achieve.
The major problem here is that The Production Company which present three shows a year in Melbourne at the Arts Centre have tried to attract an audience much younger than their data base of subscribers and this creates the argument as to whether you want a traditional biblical version suitable for the 21st century or a revved up 2017 mishmash of today’s various trends.
I do believe this version works with the 18 to 30 year olds who would have only seen the Arena versions or Gale Edwards TV special, but I think she should have thought about the Production Companies target audience when putting this one together. A huge plus however are the principal stars. Ballarat’s own Zoy Frangos give a superb performance as Judas Iscariot, singing and acting up a storm, he nails this very difficult role. Given the opportunities, Zoy will become one of Australia’s finest musical theatre performers. Popular Melbourne actor and singer Rob Mills shows he is not just a pretty face as Jesus and his singing performance of Gethsemane and the crucifixion scene are simply brilliant. Bravo Rob, all the knockers couldn’t get anywhere near your performance in this show. Alinta Chidzey is a good Mary Magdalene without standing out while Michael Cormick delivers as the tormented Pilate supported very well by Paul Hughes as Caiaphas and Stephen McDowell outstanding as Annas. Vocally the best of the rest come from Mike Snell as Simon Zealotes, Andrew Cook as Peter and Trevor Ashley who has fun.
The music from a smaller than normal orchestra is a huge highlight as is the lighting and sound. An interesting note, the performance I saw, the day after opening night was vocally brilliant, no nerves just great voices and excellent acting. To be able to deliver both require a very talented cast and the director chose wisely here. The show has played to sell out houses with extra performances and ends on Sunday. I am off to see the final show and it will be interesting to see any differences in vocal or presentation after 19 shows. It’s just a pity Gale Edwards didn’t make up her mind how she wanted this version of Superstar to be. Ballarat will get a local chance to see J C Superstar in March next year when Ballarat Lyric presents their version to be directed by Stephen Amarti. As Lyric tend to cater to younger audiences I wouldn’t be surprised to see another 21st century version of the show, but this time hopefully with a purpose throughout.