It is the best-known story in history, based on the best-selling book worldwide for the past couple of millennia: Jesus Christ Superstar has arrived at the Townsville Entertainment and Convention Centre.
A rock opera recounting the days leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion and offering a potential backstory to his imminent betrayal by Judas, the fresh perspective (albeit admittedly not biblically accurate), percussive soundtrack, and visually stunning set and lighting design make Superstar enjoyable for people of any background.
The show features a line-up of some of Townsville’s best local and exported performers in its lead roles, including Luke Kennedy as Jesus. It’s easy to see how Luke made it so far on The Voice, with a vocal range that stretches from angelic to powerhouse, delivering a sweetness and humility to Jesus despite the darkness of characters around him.
Opposite Luke is Townsville’s Kelly Stone as Judas. Kelly belts out some of the grungiest and most powerful ballads in the show and you have every chance of mistaking him for a lead singer at a rock concert. Luke and Kelly both earnt standing ovations from some audience members mid-show for each of their most iconic moments, and for good reason – it is hard to imagine that they will be performing five more shows because both gave 110% vocally last night.
Also returning to Townsville for this performance is Elissa Jenkins as Mary – Jesus’ constant reminder that everything’s alright among the dissention of the Romans and the growing restlessness of his own followers. Elissa’s performance portrayed Mary well with soaring showcases of her vocal range and a softness of character offering some calm moments for Jesus as the rest of the characters and the soundtrack build in intensity.
Equally worthy of mention are Brady Cronin as the conniving Annas and Nick Christie as the mysterious King Herod. Brady ensures that Annas is completely loathed, while showcasing some incredibly high notes rivalling those of Paul Ransom’s bass-heavy Caiaphas. Nick had the entire auditorium laughing and cheering from the moment he trotted onto stage complete with a bevy of bosom-y backup dancers – and he kept earning laughs and applause for the duration of his performance.
While Judas becomes misguided, the audience is given other insights to the apostles through solos from Jeremiah Pau as Peter and Adam Mullamphy as Simon. Jeremiah shows an unwavering faith, as we see Peter fighting for Jesus until the bitter end, while Adam’s Simon shows faith in a different form, encouraging Jesus and the apostles to march on Rome to gain power.
It would be remiss not to mention the show’s sound issues. In a cavernous space such as the Entertainment Centre, it can be extremely difficult to reach a balance. While most solos were strong and well-delivered, ensemble numbers were muffled and echoey or at times drowned out by the raw power of the Superstar Band, directed by Paddy Higgins. For those who have seen Jesus Christ Superstar before (or who have a very thorough recollection of the Bible) this isn’t a huge issue – however several people commented during intermission that Act One hard to follow as they couldn’t understand the lyrics.
The ensemble features heavily throughout the production, with core featured dancers providing many highlights and allowing Chris Davis’ choreography to shine. However, some members of the ensemble seemed less committed: in whole-cast numbers, while leads and dancers would dazzle downstage, the performers up the back appeared much less confident. This could very well be opening night jitters and I look forward to seeing their confidence grow in coming shows.
Jesus Christ Superstar is an absolute visual feast, with the incredible staging by Daks Plozza and lighting and projections by Jamie Schmidt worth the ticket price alone. Even these pieces of the show continue to build, opening with just one or two meandering helicopter searchlights and reaching a climax with the cross rising (this isn’t a spoiler – the story is 2019 years old) and every light in the room silhouetting it. While we have seen Jamie’s work multiple times in local productions, his best work is definitely showcased in an arena setting – and he can now happily add the crucifixion of Jesus to his highlight reel.
Congratulations to co-directors D’Arcy Mullamphy and Andrew Higgins on delivering an updated format of Jesus Christ Superstar to Townsville. As one of the most-performed shows worldwide, Superstar is a production that continues to thrive through its commentary on contemporary themes that lace themselves throughout the show – you’ll know them when you see them. The performance is half-musical-half-rock-concert, with no dialogue and a whole lot of blasting bass.
Had this show been performed in any other month of the year, I have no doubt last night’s audience would have been double the size. Packing out the Entertainment Centre – even on a quiet night – is an incredibly tall order, but now sitting on the Fringe with a smorgasbord of other events to compete with, Superstar has a tough week ahead of it. I encourage you now: arts fatigue may be kicking in, you may have already experienced your share of performances for the month, but keep getting out there! Keep supporting these events and showing that Townsville values creativity. Jesus Christ Superstar is backed by a team of some of our city’s most experienced directors, choreographers, vocal coaches, musicians, designers and, of course, performers. After July, the Civic Theatre and Riverway Arts Centre will remain out of action for some time and you’ll be wishing you had seen more shows while they were here – so #GetCultured.
Jesus Christ Superstar runs at the Townsville Entertainment and Convention Centre until 20 July 2019. View performance times and book tickets here.