Jesus Christ Superstar - AIMS - Adjudicator's Critique 2019

Wednesday 8th May 2019 at 8:03 PM

The following is the public section of the adjudicator's report on our production of Jesus Christ Superstar, by AIMS Adjudicator, Billy Rea:

I have seen this wonderful Tim Rice, Andrew Lloyd Webber in all sorts of styles and settings. Director Peter Kennedy had chosen the traditional look to the show with authentic looking settings and costuming (for the most part). It was a very good piece of very emotional story telling with some great performances.

The Hub is a multi-functional space which doubles as a sporting venue. The addition of special flooring and heavy black lining material round the walls gave it a good acoustic.

Shane Farrell whom I have met on many occasions was Musical Director. He had gathered a team of twelve players who gave us a beautifully judged accompaniment through the show. There can be a tendency in a rock musical such as this to blast out the music to the detriment of the story-telling, not here, we had a subtle and melodic backing which at times burst into robust rock but never overpowered the singing. The Overture set the tone for the show, interestingly Peter had decided to act out the main moments in Jesus' life. Mary and Joseph coming down the aisle of the theatre, Jesus' birth, the miracles, turning the water to wine, the blind made to see. This was gently and effectively done. There was an easy flow with the direction and hence the movement through the show was very natural. There were some nice placings of cast though at one stage Jesus was lying down stage and those addressing him kept looking straight down at Him which cut them out of eye contact with us. There were beautiful and poignant moments such as the sound of the bag of coins hitting the stage. There were some quite disturbing images like when the followers turned on Jesus, very much like a group of wild animals turning on one of their own. The characters had all been thought through well and the cast delivered good performances.

The staging was very realistic with nicely constructed and painted gables of buildings, staircases, arch ways. Some of these had interesting lights coming through from off stage which really added to the look of the show, well done to the stage team. The show was nicely lit with some wonderful effects in a complicated lighting plot. There was a wide range of colours used which added to the drama of the piece. The movement/dance in the show was well handled though there were some movements which didn't seem to totally fit in. I did however like the touches of traditional Jewish moves and turns with raised arms. The end of The Temple number with the crowds crawling over the stage in pursuit of cures from Jesus was hauntingly memorable. Herod's Song was set as a 1920's moment of escapism though there was quite an edge to that scene which gave a different dimension to it.

The sound throughout the show was nicely balanced with good cueing of the microphones and a very pleasant sound. In a hall like this that is no mean achievement. Perfect volume too. Well done sound team.

There was a strong cast of actors in principal roles in the show. In the title role was Brian Flanagan. This is perhaps one of the most challenging roles in modern musicals as we run through the last emotional days of Jesus' life. This portrayal was well developed with instances of frustration and even self-doubt shown very well. There were gentle moments when we saw the developing friendship and love for Mary Magdalene. Brian sang really well, giving us a powerful rendition of Gethsemane. Louis Brennan had an interesting shaved head look for Judas. Not here the obvious black but a shade of grey. Louis used all the acting areas well, moving effortlessly around the stage. This was an emotional performance, with some good singing, I thought he was particularly at his best singing Judas' Death. I would just watch that the emotion of the moment doesn't take away the clarity of the diction.

Mary was tenderly played by Sonja Stevens. There was a beautiful subtle difference between her costume and the others which meant that she could stand out but at other times she blended in with the crowd. She acted the role with great dignity and sang well throughout the production. This was a gentle portrayal of the role. Pilate was very intelligently played by David Cooke. This role really developed through the production because of David's interpretation. The way he reacted to the unfolding story was great, making a memorable character.

Niall Heaney made a real impact in the role of Caiaphas. He began with the most wonderful deep rich voice which seemed to resonate around the auditorium. He acted and sang this role well. Niall was well supported by Declan Carroll as Annas who had good stage presence in the part. This was a well sung and sincere performance. The High Priests were played by David Alexander and Pat McDonnell.

They helped to create a good on stage grouping with Caiaphas and Annas. This team of four players looked correct on stage and acted well together. They created some very pleasing tableaux, especially when they used the raised area at the temple.

Herod's Song was nicely sung (though I feel we could have made a little more of the staging of the number) by Anthony Flanagan. The OTT dressed Herod brings a moment of levity to Act 2. I really liked the edge that Anthony gave the number, giving it more of a threatening quality.

Simon played by Jamie Mee really blew me away by the glorious tone of his voice. He gave a thoughtful and highly moving performance of his song. Ivan Moran was a troubled Peter who really showed us his pain when he felt he had to deny Christ.

One thing that several actors had a tendency to do was to always look directly to the person they are addressing. This means that their contact is broken with us. Several times Jesus is lying on the floor which meant the actors looked down at Him cutting us out completely. This is something which needs worked at for your next production.

The chorus gave us some incredibly moving and dramatic moments. They really became like a pack of animals when they were chanting for Christ's blood. They looked incredibly eerie when they sought Jesus' miracles outside the temple. A totally memorably acted and lit moment of musical theatre. There was great singing from this chorus who gave us gorgeous harmonies and of course there were those wee Shane Farrell singing touches which added that little bit extra.

The look of the piece was one sandy desert colours. This was seen in the wonderful set and of course the costumes. These were in shades of creams and burnt orange, almost like the colours in old faded photographs. This created a kind of consistency to the look which was punctuated by the Herod's Song and the final sparkly build up to the crucifixion. Other costumes such as the Roman soldiers, Pilate and the High Priests were beautifully attired. One thing I really did appreciate was the attention to detail with the footwear. There was a great mix of really authentic looking sandals which looked so good.

Make up was very natural but worked well. Character make up was in keeping. Hair was again very natural but please if actors have to have a beard, either grow one, which is preferable, but make sure the beard colour is a match of the hair colour. This was not the case and it just didn't look right.

Props were by and large in keeping and in good condition. We had nice items to dress the Temple set and for the Last Supper. The benches and carts looked well on stage. An overall harmonious look to the production of setting, props and lighting.

In conclusion, Castlerea Musical Society really dug deep to give us a memorable production of Jesus Christ Superstar. I commend the society for all their hard work and the attention to detail from production team, cast and everyone working backstage.

Billy Rea
11th April 2019