Jesus Christ Superstar is an oft performed crowd favourite, with several productions in Adelaide over recent years. Few have achieved the quality of that delivered by Scotch College for their 2015 show.
With a smiling self-assurance, which has you vacillating between wanting to join his followers or slap him, Ben Francis gives a performance as Jesus that should make many professionals quake in their boots. His vocal range and quality is impeccable as he navigates the substantial demands of the role. Despite the title, Jesus Christ Superstar is also largely Judas’ story and Tom Russel’s agonised portrayal is a good counterbalance to the serine and sanguine Jesus.
From the outset Jesus’ seemingly willing oblivion to what is happening around him puts the audience squarely in Judas’ corner. Russel shows Judas’ building desperation as he appears to be the only person able to sense the catastrophic potential of the current situation. Meanwhile, Francis has crafted a Jesus whose outer peaceful façade can only hide his inner turmoil for so long, and must eventually give way to a character who is much more human in his flaws and motivations. In this manner, both stories and plights are given equal weighting and importance, and draw simultaneous sympathy thanks to the performances of the two young men in question.
Hannah Hamilton provided a faultless and enjoyable vocal performance as Mary. The potential for her relationship with Jesus to intensify the rift between him and Judas was believable, as the young couple had eyes only for each other. As Pontius Pilate, Lachlan Williams had a commanding presence and a voice to match. Samuel Burst tackled the role of Caiaphas, with the very low range presenting quite an ask for a teenage boy, and came out victorious, and in the gender swapped role of his offsider Annas, Emma Trumble was another stand out performer. Featured solos from other members of the ensemble showed that the quality of vocals did not end with the principals.
While the performances from such a young cast in these demanding roles deserve much praise, further focus on embodying the emotion in the scenes, rather than presenting it with outward manifestations would have increased the intensity of the story – the desperate attempt to control emotion is often a more powerful show of pain than an overflow of sobbing.
Design-wise, the production has a lot in common with the recent professional arena tour; however much of this could simply be because these are the iconic images that come to mind when you think of contemporary scenes of unrest. Ultimately, it is the scenes that veer away from this visual that have the most impact. The clutching hands of the masses, reaching out for Jesus’ healing touch from below ragged, dirty robes during The Temple, are the stuff of nightmares, while King Herod’s Song, performed with cheeky verve by Tayla Coad, gives a nod to the currently popular Hunger Games series, as she and her court gaily tap dance their way towards Jesus’ fate.
The creative team of director Adam Goodburn, musical director Antony Hubmayer and choreographer Linda Williams, has crafted an enjoyable and polished production, which the cast and crew can be thoroughly proud of and other companies could aspire to.