Jesus Christ Superstar


It’s not that often that I get the chance to revisit a show on tour that I’ve both seen and reviewed in its original incarnation.

However, 13th May 2024 gives me the opportunity to do just that with the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre’s 2016 production of Jesus Christ Superstar kicking off a week’s residency at The New Wimbledon Theatre on an extensive tour that’s already taken in the cities of Leicester and Southampton, to name but two, and in the coming twelve weeks will encompass a dozen other theatres from Torquay to Sunderland, with the promise of more to come.

So, how well does the sprawling outdoor set of Regent’s Park fit within the Edwardian plasterwork of The New Wimbledon’s Grade II listed interior? Well, pretty smoothly, actually. There has been some inevitable tailoring to accommodate the new environment but overall the production is recognisably a close relation to the one I loved back in 2016.

I may have my reservations, more of which later, but there’s still a lot to like so I’ll begin with the positives.

Ian McIntosh as the titular lead has an impressive range, and though he never quite reaches the theatrical heights of Steve Balsamo from the 1996 Lyceum production (there was life in that theatre before The Lion King!) he comes pretty damn close, and his reading of ‘Gethsemane’ is genuinely effecting.

Hannah Richardson’s Mary is sweet enough in the role, but I don’t sense much chemistry between her and McIntosh’s Jesus. That being said, it’s a thankless part and when she’s allowed to shine in ‘I don’t know how to love him’ she does.

Over to ‘the baddies’ and as head priest Caiaphas Jad Habchi’s sonorous bass gives a real depth to the role (no pun intended), and when coupled with Matt Bateman’s oleaginous and scheming Annas a much-needed dark counterpoint to the story of the ‘saviour of the world’ going on elsewhere.

However, for me, the overall standout performance of the show comes from Timo Tatzber as Herod (a part played at certain performances earlier in the tour by Julian Clary) who not only sings the role marvellously but acts it with delicious menace. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it performed better, or be better costumed (well done Tom Scutt who is responsible for both costumes and set).

I don’t know how much smaller the on-stage band is than earlier productions, but it has a synthetic feel largely due to the absence of strings (they’re done on keyboard) and much of a brass section. The only ‘spine-tingly’ moment comes during the overture when we hear the first iteration of the ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ melody, but that was largely due to a change of lighting and a ramping up of the sound level.

The weakest part of the cast for me came in the form of Shem Omari James’ Judas who, although he has a pleasant voice, doesn’t convince in the role. There are even times when he appears to be having trouble fitting all the words in, but that could possibly be due to the tempi of the arrangements which both I and the music professional who I had as my plus one felt are taken at something of a lick to the detriment of both storytelling and dramatic tension.

It’s just possible however that these niggles may have been more noticeable due to the physical environment of the theatre which has minimal leg room. Having said that, my seat five rows back in the dress circle sells for £41.50 at The New Wimbledon, and would easily be double that in a theatre within Zone 1, so provides excellent value for money for what is still a great show.

New Wimbledon Theatre

Director: Timothy Sheader

Book & Lyrics: Tim Rice

Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber

Cast includes: Ian McIntosh, Shem Omari James, Hannah Richardson, Ryan O’Donnell, Jad Habchi, Matt Bateman, Timo Tatzber, and full supporting cast

Until:  18 May 2024 and touring

Running time: 1hrs 55 minutes including 1 x 20 minute interval

Photography credit: Paul Coltas

Jesus Christ Superstar