Harvest Rain Theatre CompanyPlayhouse, QPAC, Brisbane Friday, 20 August, 2010 (Opening Night)
It can’t be helped that the story of Jesus doesn’t particularly grab me, nor can the fact that musicals don’t exactly capture my heart. But those truths aside, Harvest Rain’s genius rendition of the classic Jesus Christ Superstar blew me away opening night.
The rock musical was a complete extravaganza. The set alone was one of the best I’ve seen in a long while. Josh McIntosh created a dark and eerie run-down cathedral that used up every centimetre of the playhouse stage to provide the perfect setting for the sacred tale. Jason Glenwright’s lighting fit the design perfectly by intensifying the shadowy and gloomy feel, while easily shifting the mood to be more cheerful for brighter scenes.
Music and sound were perfect and there was no refuting that principals Luke Kennedy as Jesus, Tod Strike as Judas and Naomi Price as Mary Magdalene, had mind-blowing singing voices that were the soul of the production.
Director Tim O’Connor deserves a huge pat on the back for his quality cast and sound choices, as well as his vision in general. It’s an interesting idea he has devised for the play. Sixty-five people are sheltering in a run-down cathedral after a “cataclysmic global event” has brought society to an end. As Conner points out, it’s a “play within a play”, as the group re-tells the story of Christ in their desperation to keep human history alive. Dressed in frayed, eye-catching hippie attire, the costume design delivered an overwhelming presence when the large cast was on stage. Choreographing this team would have been an epic task, but Callum Mansfield fashioned crowd scenes that could have easily been a chaotic mess into order. The movements among the crowd, while tidy, appeared to have some amount of improvisation and were distinct from anything I’ve seen before.
Conner made the wise and innovative decision to scatter the musicians throughout the multi-level set adding to the “play within a play” effect and creating a powerful soundtrack. The off-stage choir were also incredible.
Tod Strike made his first and most memorable mark as Judas in the opening scene with Heaven on Their Minds. He carried this earth-shattering resonance throughout the whole show. And while it may have seemed hard to top such a musical performance, Naomi Price moved the entire audience with I Don’t Know How to Love Him. By far it was my favourite moment and Price stole in the show. Luke Kennedy was unfailing in all his songs and made it obvious why he was cast in the lead role as Jesus.
I was very intrigued by Lawrie Esmond’s extremely deep voice as Caiaphas. He reminded me of the Crash Test Dummies lead singer – but even deeper!
Steven Tandy had his moment as the very camp and outrageous Herod – his boxer shorts and feather headdress couldn’t be ignored and nor did I want to ignore it.
I don’t know what it is exactly that makes Jesus Christ Superstar so successful, but this production in its own right is of a standard that moved some audience members to tears.
Showing until the 29th of August, hurry up and get along by booking tickets at www.qtix.com.au.
Jesus Christ Superstar