Saturday, 5 December 2015

A Revisitation - 'Jesus Christ Superstar', King's Theatre Glasgow, 9th and 10th Sept 2010

In 2010 I witnessed two performances of an amateur production of "Jesus Christ Superstar" (it was double cast so I saw both) and, as was usual, I decided to write about it. Upon publication I received quite a bit of hate from members of the cast. Originally I wrote a review after seeing the first show but after seeing the second cast in the next performance I decided to rewrite the review to combine impressions from both shows.
For some reason I never published the review or the responses to it here on my blog (to be honest I thought I had) so do so now:

Let me point out here and now - these are my opinions and I stand by them.

I think 'Jesus Christ Superstar' is one of the most exciting scores written for theatre and I have always loved the piece.
The Orpheus Club presented an enjoyable show which had things I liked and things I didn't.
If any company aspires to professional standards then I shall view the production as such. I think amateur companies far too often get a bad rep and for all misconstrued reasons. Amateur performers are probably amongst the most dedicated that exist - they have to juggle full time careers, funding shortages and never have the technical rehearsal time given to pro shows. Yet they never fail to entertain. I have seen far too many disappointing pro shows in comparison to amateur ones and often find the vigour and passion of amateur performers out-weigh those of the professionals.
So - onto the show itself; Walter Paul's direction is adequate if uninspired at times with some scene transitions being quite clumsy (transitions are important to the flow of a production and Joshua Logan was a pioneer in this field in his direction of 'South Pacific' in the late 40s) and I do wish these had been dealt with better. That said there are moments in the show which are quite exciting and thrilling. His use of the large impressive set, designed and supplied by Scenic Projects Ltd in a similar style to the original London production of 1972, varies but the highlight was the leper scene which was especially creepy as hordes of the lame came crawling up the steps to overwhelm Jesus. There are other times, however, when the set seems to overwhelm the cast giving one the impression that the stage is half empty though the entire cast may be onstage. The trial scene was another highlight for me with an impressive emotional build up. It's in scenes like these that the ensemble cast really comes up trumps; though their staging may be a bit too simplistic for my tastes the reactions of many of the cast feeds into the power of such scenes overcoming any directorial handicaps. The temple scene might be a case in point here; it was during this scene that I felt the direction was at its weakest with the scene portrayed as some quasi-holiday camp. There was certainly not enough sin on display to warrant Jesus' objections to the goings on (seemingly approved of by the priests who were in attendance - another directorial error methinks) and it was here that my mind wandered and thought I was witnessing, albeit briefly (thank god!) a performance of 'Summer Holiday' (ugh!). Thankfully the leper scene that followed pulled things back onto the right track.
The 'Herod' number was incredibly funny and a welcome reprieve. I have seen previous productions where Herod has been played almost straight and others where he was played as a clown and here he was certainly portrayed as more of the latter - a welcome choice brought off by an exuberant cast. The following scene was a marked contract, and another highlight, where Jesus' is beaten by the Roman soldiers during 'Could We Start Again, Please?', always one of my favourite numbers.
Paul's direction of the 'Superstar' number was a bit of an anti-climax for myself, more so as it follows the heart-wrenching trial scene; instead of an overwhelmingly powerful musical segue into the crucifixion it came across almost as an afterthought. Only my opinion but, as the final musical number, I have always felt that something impressive should be made of the scene and Paul had decided to use a minimum number of singers with a small chorus of dancers. Judas' appearance here as an outright rocker was impressive but the soul girls attired as 1940s club singers jarred, even if their voices were divine. The lack of a true finale to the number, replaced with a fade out here, also weakened the sequence for myself.
As for the crucifixion itself; I was actually impressed with most of it and the cast certainly added to the emotional intensity of the scene. My one quibble with this finale was that the director decided to introduce the character of Mary, Mother of God when Jesus asks about the whereabouts of his mother. As the character was never mentioned or seen previously in the production it seemed a dramatic error of judgement on Paul's part to introduce her for this one moment.
Costuming was primarily modern summer dress which  worked for most of the production (and really seemed to suit the apostles) whilst Herod and his court were attired in 1920s garb appropriate to the ragtime nature of the music in the scene. The priests were dressed in suits and leather coats giving the production a little of the variety it needed. Looking very much at times like members of a mafia the priests were amongst my favourite characters in this production and gave the production an added air of darkness and mystery.
Judas stood out dressed in dark quasi-emo clothing later transforming into a true rocker for the 'Superstar' number which really suited.
The Musical Direction of Andrew S. Nicol was well done although I did lament the cutting of some musical sequences and felt the temple number was too slow; draining the scene of some essential energy (a similar tempo was used in the 2000 video production and I felt the same there).
Choreography was simple and effective if a little un-original and was sparsely used. 'Hosanna', normally one of the choreographed numbers, was actually left dance free and I'm still unsure if that was a good thing or not.
Lighting by Ian Irving was a little too broad at times for my liking and I felt some scenes could have been lit better (especially to delineate space given the large space) but the leper scene and 'could we start again, please?' stood out as some excellent lighting. Here I might as well say that I felt the overall production was too light and I felt it could have done with more variety of shade, in the trial scene for example, although the priests were often given a darker lighting scheme.
The cast themselves generally excelled with the ensemble giving some verve to proceedings and the apostles forming a well rounded group of individuals who one felt truly were a brotherhood. James Thom's Peter came across very well and his vocal quality is something I really enjoyed. Steven Struthers as Simon gave a vibrant and energetic performance in the role being not too wild and not too subdued as the 'zealot' of the group.
The priests were, as said previously, well executed by Kenny Reid, Andrew Forrest and David Blackwood with Matt Bingham and Alex Robertson being equally impressive as Caiaphas and Annas.
Sean Stirling's Herod was a joy and his innuendo and comedy were excellent drawing heavy laughs from the audience whilst Kris Haddow as Pilate was truly impressive with a resounding voice and presence that commanded and drew your attention. For me he was certainly one of the highlights of the show, especially during the trial.
Judas Iscariot as portrayed by Tommie Hart, frontman of Zener Diode, had an impressive roll-call of vocal pyrotechnics to hand but I did initially feel his Judas wasn't varied enough, although in the second show I saw I did see more variety of emotion. Whether it was a decision taken by actor or director I felt that what is, to me, the most interesting role in the show was simply not given a believable story arc and almost seemed super-imposed on the production at times (actually, thinking about it, if this was a deliberate choice, if executed a bit better it could have been exceedingly interesting - almost like an 'Ariel' character; observing and dipping in and out of the action - but i detract). Hart's voice impressed the audience certainly but was not always to my taste although he really came into his own as a rocker during 'Superstar'.
Walter Paul does have a tendency to double cast some roles and he has done this again with Mary and Jesus. Both of the women playing Mary Magdalene, Jennifer McLardy and Lynsey McLaughlin, gave the role some emotional finesse albeit in different ways. McLaughlin brought an innocence and sweet voice and subtlety whilst McLardy brought some interesting vocal styling though at times her performance became a little too forceful. But both ultimately excelled as the single female role of note in the show.
John McLarnon and Ross Nicol played Jesus on alternate performances and ultimately I felt McLarnon's performance was more successful having a voice more suited to the role and also bringing a charisma and power that drew attention to the character; although his diction could have been a little better he excelled throughout and his lashing in the trial scene was something to behold.
Nicol as Jesus, at least for me, didn't quite have the same presence or vocal ability though his 'Gethsemane' and crucifixion were excellent. In the case of Nicol I felt I paid more attention to others around him whereas I was more drawn to McLarnon's Jesus who seemed a bit more natural.

And here's some of the 'comments' I received from members of the cast (I've included the full conversations, including spelling and grammar errors, but deleted personal details):

From a female cast member:

Female Cast Member
Looking very forward to seeing your next production .... I've got a lot of friends who review for some excellent publications so i'll make sure you get a mention ! Plus I give pretty good critiques too ....I'll make it extra special for you smile emoticon
Nothing like some tit for tat hey......oh and it was such a same that you couldn't get to play ALTERNATIVE JUDAS as it should have been double cast !....... noone could even come close to Tommie's performance though......suck balls !!
Also talking about balls...... I look forward to meeting you at some point with my "unsubtle" foot and kicking yours !
You should behind amateur clubs pal and not putting them down after all you were a part of it for weeks..... will be suprised if you get into another club when your disgusting attitude comes into focus !
Nice to speak to you pet
we are each entitled to our opinions. and believe me when i say i am very much behind amateur companies - but simply because they are so doesn't mean they should get off lightly. in my home town if it were not for amateur groups then there would be little musical entertainment. and each and every one gets professionally reviewed. there was much i enjoyed about each performance i saw - yours included, or can you not read? and as for Tommie Hart, although he was not to my personal taste as Judas, he cartainly impressed many. and Ben Goddard was an exceptional Judas! and by the way i have been known to suck the occasional set pff balls
be well and happy

Female Cast Member
Oh yes sweetheart I can read or i wouldn't have seen the review...... I don't give a flying fuck what you think of me ...those were not only cast members but friends of mine up there and some have little confidence as it is ....luckily enough I know i'm amazing so don't need you to reiterate the fact !
I think you might want to stop sucking balls it is clearly doing nothing for your personality !
Sharman Odd Tobias Prince
you cannot comment on my personality whatsover as you don't know me
Be well ...
Feamle Cast Member
No i don't thank christ ....but i know alot of people who do !! and yes I can comment on whatever I like as " I am entitled to my own opinion and those of others " !!!
same to you !!!
can't wait to see shite I mean spring awakening ...woop x
Sharman Odd Tobias Prince
forgive me, but i am always witness to that which i making an opinion of. ... and happy x
Female Cast Member
in english ??? you mean .... " I am making ??? or" I make opinions of " ??? anyway I'm bored with you now so ........
Sharman Odd Tobias Prince
oops- must remember not to copy and paste lol that should have been 'i am always witness to that which i AM making an opinion of' though tbh - "You should behind amateur clubs pal and not putting them down after all you were a part of it for weeks..... will be suprised if you get into another club when your disgusting attitude comes into focus !" you failed to put a "Be" after "should" and before "behind" but i let it slide
And another from a male cast member:
Male Cast Member
JCS Review
I believe u have already heard from a couple of people regarding ur very harsh and spiteful reviews. Now i appreciate that everybody is entitled to their opinion and i respect that, however I have to say, posting those comments on facebook knowing that the cast would see it at some point is disgusting! Fair enough if u had left it till after the run but to post it during the run of an amateur show which i might add you were a part of is bang out of order! You should be supporting amateur theatre not ripping it too shreds on facebook. Personally i couldn't give a toss what you think about me, but i know a couple members of the cast were extremely upset about your views which before going onto to do another 3 shows is the last thing you need. It is highly unprofessional, disrespectful and to some people who remember do this as a hobby extremely hurtful! Again personally i couldnt care less about your views but keep what i said in mind for future, and if you have anything like that to say again then have the balls to come up to the stage door and let us know. If you have a problem with anything i have said, i would be more than happy to discuss it with you over here or by all means call me on 07*********. Again I would like to express my sheer disgust at your actions, and hope that you face the consequences!

And some other comments from others not involved in the production:

"A review is one person's opinion. We all have opinions and are entitled to voice them. I think it is important to be honest. Some of the reviews I have read overuse the word "good". The scenery was good. The chorus numbers were good. Sometimes, as a performer, you read what you deem as the negative comments and get upset about them, rather than reading the good comments and building on them. If someone reviews me, orally or printed, and says something that I think I can work on, then I try to. Good job it isn't Strictly Come Dancing - have you heard some of Craig RH's comments?"

"I've never heard such a fuss over someone's opinions. Facebook is an open forum for people to express their own opinions. This unnecessary 'backlash' typifies all that is wrong with amateur companies who have lost touch with modern trends and furthermore highlights why such people are indeed amateur and not professional. there you go - there's another opinion that everyone call all have a moment about!"

"I loved the show, both casts and was thoroughly entertained! Don't get too upset by the opinions of others - you can't please everyone all the time! just enjoy what we do and hope that we can all keep on doing for many years to come! We have a fab hobby!"

"I thought your review was written very well and didn't slag anyone off just gave your opinion on what you liked about the production and what you didn't like. I can't believe the abuse you've had - that's ridiculous. If the actors are taking it to heart that much - they'd NEVER in a million years make it in the industry. Truth hurts I guess"

At the time someone also said to me that Scottish Amateurs were not used to being reviewed, which is fine, but my response was that where I come from they are and face the same quality of reviewing as a professional production. I also offered the idea that if you're going to put yourself (or your work) on display then one is open to the opinions of others. I've had some harsh critique of my own work throughout my life but I must say that the vitriol I received from the performers in this particular production (the female cast member was a professional performer at the time and the male cast member was at drama school and has since become a professional actor) was something else.
But I still stand by my verdict and stand by all my writing. Though, at times, my opinion may change after some time (for good or ill) I stand by the fact that these were my opinions at the time of writing and are as valid as anyone else's.