What: Jesus Christ Superstar
When: 11th August, 2017
Where: State Theatre, The Arts Centre, Melbourne
The Melbourne season of JCS has now ended, but you can find more information at: www.theproductioncompany.com.au/jcss/
First impressions was the evident lack of set. The lit-up iconic cross hung in the background, with various levels of scaffolding in the foreground. I don’t know if I necessarily liked that but it certainly was a good use of space overall. Set pieces were brought in during various scenes which helped, although as a fan of large sets, I would have preferred more. But this certainly wasn’t an issue.
JCS is one of my favourite musicals, but ultimately I did question the casting of Rob Mills. I’ve never been one to doubt Rob Mills’ talent. His potential was evident on the first season of Australian Idol, and Rob Mills was “surprisingly” good has never exited my mouth. Perhaps I’ve just grown accustomed to Rob Mills the personality and not the actor. But, I did doubt if he had the vocal range to pull off Gethsemane (I Only Want To Say) but I knew if he nailed it, he would win the audience over – and nail, he did! King Herod may have been unimpressed, but I certainly was not!
That scene, in particular, really kicked off an amazing second set. The first was a bit ho-hum in my opinion – maybe I just prefer the songs in the second set but I suspect it took a while to forget it was Rob Mills playing Jesus (instead, Jesus who just happened to be played by Rob Mills) so that was a little jarring, but then again, I may have been comparing it to other JCS performances that made me love it in the first place.
I will say this of Rob Mills though, as mentioned before, having spent some time getting used to him as the character and really being impressed with his performance, during the final curtain bow, it was immediately evident that Rob Mills was back. He stuck his tongue out, danced a little and then tried to flash his butt cheeks in his loin-cloth-like attire. I don’t have an issue with it per say, but as Alinta Chidzey as Mary Magdalene wiped tears from her eyes after the powerful and emotional scene of her love dying – in comparison, it almost felt like Rob was making a mockery of the finale. I’m sure he didn’t mean anything by it, but it did take me back to that original thought of it being Rob Mills playing Jesus, although maybe he’s better at switching back. All up though, despite some criticism, I liked Rob Mills in the role.
The biggest miss for me was I felt like important song moments were rushed without taking that pause to have the impact it should and could have, and ultimately needed. (I did suspect that this was due to the band playing on the scaffolding so it may have been a little too loud and to blame for this) But, for example, JC won’t you die for me? (from Hosanna) It would have been better with that pause on die for maximum impact. Perhaps this is a bad example, but it was very evident during King Herod’s number as well. Although I didn’t mind Trevor Ashley’s “campy” Herod, the song didn’t feel very varied in pitch and tone (until the end), so I felt those important beats were missed which was a real shame. That scene is iconic and a favourite of many, but even now I’m struggling to remember much about it (though the dancing was brilliant).
The costumes were interesting – and I mean that neither as a good or bad thing. It almost felt like each costume came from a different place. Take the Priests in their iconic (at least from the 2000 film adaptation) red robes. Jesus in his rags (although like the 2000 film adaptation too, he began with more layers before eventually stripping off). The black robes during The Arrest, also, as an example. But then we had Pilate in black latex with a protruding codpiece, alongside robo-cop-like policemen with mohawk helmets. Jesus fans wore tees in similar fashion to 70s protests – complete with slogans like Jesus Loves Me, I Love Jesus etc. And where once Jesus’s house was filled with rambunctious characters – it was now filled with people in today’s pop cultured costumes. You could tell a lot of thought and consideration went into character design, but it did leave the time period hard to place. The JCS story is a little hard to follow already, if you’re not too familiar with the bible or history, so the costume choices may have lead to further confusion. However, Judas’ costumes were reminiscent of past performances, as was Jesus and the Priests.
It may sound like I’m picking at it a little, but I’m more or less perplexed by some of the decisions made by the Production Company and parties involved. It was more or less like being on a roller coaster – it had it’s definite wow moments, but then it had its down moments too.
Judas has always been a favourite of mine and I liked Zoy Frangos performance; however, I liked the Priests performances best (Stephen McDowell and Paul Hughes especially). In fact, I didn’t dislike any performances – it was more of less just different to what I’ve seen before, but in terms of a show, it was well worth seeing.