As an agnostic, I was fearful that I might not be able to give an appropriate review on Jesus Christ Superstar, the latest ambitious ‘bonsai production’ to be staged in the compact Camps Bay theatre.
My expectations where high, particularly as I so enjoyed the previous ‘biblical’ offering at the same theatre; Joseph and his Technicolor Dreamcoat, which shared much of the same cast and crew. Of course, although this is a musical by the same camp Webber and Rice duo, its subject matter, that of the last few days of Christ’s earthly life and his relationship with Mary Magdalene is somewhat more serious. I’m sure that this is one musical that solicits much debate between the director and designer wherever it is presented. Do you make it contemporary, fresh and controversial, or do you opt not to offend the purists and err on the side of conservative caution?
My feeling, and that of my critical posse, was that the staging and design of the show could have been stepped up a notch. A little pushing of the envelope with regards it’s overall look could have done wonders. It was all rather expected, offering few real surprises besides a dramatic ‘helicopter drop’ opening and a camp King Herod’s song – an exuberant and stylistically brilliant showstopper.
The pivotal part of Jesus was played by Wonderboom lead singer Cito. He is a truly superb vocalist and performer, for whom this show marks his first foray into theatre. Sadly his lack of acting experience shows quite clearly in the first act, where he seems somewhat stilted and ‘wooden’. All is forgiven in the second act however; as Cito’s astonishing vocal ability is displayed to full effect in his solo song ‘Gethsemane’. Powerful and haunting, it left the audience gob-smacked and is without doubt one of the shows highlights. Cito continues this top form throughout the second act and delivers a harrowing Crucifixion scene that leaves the Christians in the audience shattered and weeping.
Jesus Christ Superstar boasts some of the country’s top performing talents and reveals some new ones too. Robert Finlayson (The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me) as Judas Iscariot gives the type of solid performance one would expect after his many years of experience on London’s West End. Anton Luitingh, last seen as the outrageous Pharaoh in Joseph, gives empathy and depth to his character Pontius Pilate.
A favorite to gay audiences has to be talented Rowan Cloete. Best known as the blonde SABC1 brand ambassador, but seem more recently in gay theatre productions of My Night with Reg and Love! Valour! Compassion! he performs two characters, that of Phillip and also King Herod. This time he does not appear naked on stage, however his performance as Herod is still scene-stealing. We always knew he could act and sing, but now he also shows us he can dance. Although clearly intended to be over-the-top, King Herod’s scene does demonstrate the impact of contemporary production values and gives us a glimpse of what the entire show could have looked like had the producers not opted to go the cautious route.
A surprise is relative newcomer Cadida Mosoma, who plays Mary Magdalene, with a beautiful voice and looks that are easy on the eye; she needs only practice a little restraint in her singing. Even so, she is a pleasure and has no doubt, through this production, ensured herself a promising career in musical theatre.
The supporting cast is truly superb. All have years of stage experience and nearly all of them appeared together in Joseph and his Technicolor Dreamcoat. They work extremely well together on stage and are consummate dancers.
Gay audiences will all agree, however that there is one scene in particular that will stick in our collective memory: In the Temple scene, super sexy Izak Davel, as Peter, appears wearing nothing but a tiny golden Speedo and his spectacular chiseled body – a real treat for audiences in the first few rows!
All in all, although considerably more serious than other musicals of its ilk, this ambitious production of Jesus Christ Superstar is still an entertaining audience experience and one that will particularly hit home for those religiously aligned to its story.
Jesus Christ Superstar is on at the Theatre on the Bay until Sunday 13 August – no extensions.