I have seen a fair few Brentwood shows over the years and have been really impressed, but the show I saw last night wasn't in the same league ... it was leaps and bounds above of everything I've previously seen!
Jesus Christ Superstar has to, in my opinion, take the audience on an emotional journey as well as the journey of the story itself. If the amount of audience members, myself included, who were wiping there eyes when leaving is anything to go by, it was fully achieved.
The immersive approach adopted by Brentwood, having seats at the side of the stage and with cast members seated in the audience, was interesting.
Personally I sometimes love this style of theatre and sometimes find it a distraction, I also know some people find it unnerving, so it was a brave and in the end successful decision. As an audience member I felt part of the story that was being told and, after the initial shock, enjoyed being sat next to different cast members.
This brings me onto the singing, and as a sung-through musical (a musical with no dialogue) it encompasses the whole show ... in a word, wow!
Every single company and solo number was strongly sung and powerfully performed. Backed by a 5 piece band - led by MD Ian Southgate - who rocked the 'rock opera' style, I was captivated from the overture right through to the crucifixion.
Now into the cast ... this could take some time considering there were over 40 members of the cast including 20 men (an achievement in itself within amateur theatre).
The only fair way I can do this is to work through the programme, character by character.
Jesus Christ was played by Matt Charlesworth and he was amazing. He was everything someone playing Jesus needed to be. He looked the part, had a calm serenity, strong voice and emotional vulnerability. His version of Gethsemane was amazing and his death was chilling.
Judas Escariot was played by Simon Briscoe, an excellent contrast to Matt's Jesus. Strong, moody and every bit the rocker. Heaven On Their Minds and Blood Money were so powerful and his death scene was brilliant (great stage craft with the noose - I'll talk more about this later).
Juliet Thomas played Mary Magdalene an essential, but relatively small role. Her rendition of I Don't Know How To Love Him was flawless and her scream during the crucifixion was chilling.
Pontius Pilate was played by Martin Harris confidently. He talked in the programme about showing a darker side and we definitely saw that in this role, especially in his Act Two appearances. This was possibly the angriest interpretation of Pilate I have seen and I liked it.
King Herod was played by Jon Keeler. Often seen in amateur productions as a novelty, comedy role, needed to break the growing tension. In this production the contrast of costume / style worked well because the menacing element seen in other characters was mirrored and contrasted the effeminate costuming well.
Peter was played by Aiden Adams, his voice perfectly complimenting Juliet's in Could We Start Again Please.
Simon Zealotes was played by Jon Hare who put everything into the song of the same name in a number that lifted the audience and the show to another level.
The priests were played by Bob Southgate (Caiaphas), Mick Kiel (Annas), Iain Johnson and Andy Gillett and were every bit the overarching presence that was needed for the roles. Dark, moody and menacing.
The Apostles group, who appeared to be slightly different to those in the programme, did a great job. I really enjoyed the Last Supper scene.
It seems wrong to then label everyone else as ensemble because every single person on stage added to the immensity of the show. The Soul Singers / Angels who accompanied Judas in Superstar were amazing - their blend of voices was phenomenal. The ensemble dances were so well put together - the dancing in What's the Buzz, Hosanna, Simon Zealotes, The Temple was brilliant. The King Herod's Song dancers also did a great job. I loved the ensemble work during the leper and the Trial Before Pilate scenes as well.
I feel like I am going on and on, but I have to mention the staging and stage craft.
I liked the stark metal set, as it was simple yet effective and the wooden cross was an interesting contrast.
I've already mentioned the noose as a great bit of stage craft, but I would also like to mention the lighting for the priests (and generally in fact), the use of echoes during the death scenes and the blood which were all very effective and took this production to a higher level.
A good production of Jesus Christ Superstar should, in my opinion, leave the audience emotional exhausted. Brentwood's did that and then some! To be honest, there are still some parts of the show I am still trying to process now!
Well done to the cast, crew and of course Sarah Barton (director/choreographer) and Ian Southgate (Musical Director) for putting on such an awe inspiring show.
Brentwood's next show appears to be a lighter one, Our House, which plays at the Brentwood Theatre in May next year.