Jesus Christ Superstar the Arena Tour has been touring the UK and Australia in 2012/2013, and been filmed and distributed by Universal and shown on select cinema screens. It’s now available in Blu-ray/DVD, and because I am a huge Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber fan, and a huge Tim Minchin fan, I bought it on faith.
I had reservations about how good Jesus Christ Superstar could be with a modern setting and if most of the leads weren’t trained in musical theatre, but the Arena Tour proved not only that the rock voices truly work (as it was written to be a rock opera), but the ultra-modern setting actually made the whole story easier to understand and relate to. The modern-day setting was inspired by the 2011 London riots and the Occupy movement, which at the time I was living through, and could partially understand.
My only criticism is that I wish Ben as Jesus could have put more rock into some of the heavier parts in Act I, but his gentler solos were beautiful, and I did suspect he was saving the rock voice for Act II. Tim Minchin was perfect as emotionally torn Judas, infecting his incredible range with passion and giving a stirringly broken portrayal of a co-leader burned and concerned for the movement his best friend started. There’s a reason he’s getting top billing despite not playing Jesus. Mel C was inspired as the bohemian-looking Mary and it’s the first time I haven’t wanted to stab myself in the ear during I Don’t Know How to Love Him. Chris Moyles was a perfect fit as a cheesy reality show host King Herod, and Alex Hanson as a bored, disinterested bureaucrat showed just how helpless Pontius Pilate really was in the face of the mob and pressure from the priests. I’ve always liked Annas’ melodies, and the perfectly-pitched miniature-sized Gerard Bentall was also one to remember.
I have always had issues with Laurence Conner, the director. I don’t often agree with his interpretations – he also directed the 25th anniversary performances of Les Miserables and the Phantom of the Opera, which I adored but felt the interpretation was not as strong and lush and romantic as it could have been. I feel the same thing with JCS: it’s an amazing performance, but the direction was a little off in some places. I don’t know: maybe when I view it again I’ll come to understand Conner’s direction, but as my knee-jerk reaction, I wish some things could have been done differently.
I would have loved to have seen this live: however, I live in a very awkward place in Australia, and apparently it’s too expensive to ship a set across Bass Strait to give Tasmania its own arena spectacular. We’ve got the arena: I’ve seen both Les Miserables and Cats in the arena, but we also missed out on the Cats tour around Australia back in 2000-ish, and most of the major national tours skip us as well.