It's big, it's flashy, it's visual, but something feels like it's missing from the Arena tour of Webber/Rice's telling of Jesus Christ's last days leading up to his Crucifixion. Where's the heart? But is that to do with size of the tour or the show itself?
Superstar was originally designed to be a concept album; the success of the album meant the show was put on stage, a rock spectacular if you will. The music is fantastic (one of Webber's more interesting scores) and the scenes themselves are nicely done, but when put together it feels a bit disjointed, a race to the end, jumping over important moments so never allowing you to really feel.
This has always been a common problem with the show, though, and if you can see past its flaws the show is still very enjoyable, largely thanks to the music.
So does the show work in an arena (Webber's dream staging for the show)? Yes and no. This production is one of the best I have seen; set today and linking modern day events up to the time Jesus walked the earth is a clever idea (though some moments are a bit odd). The staging and projections are impressive and the lighting (especially during the Crucifixion, where 1000s of red bits of paper slowly cover the stage) is spectacular.
The main problem is that the intimate moments (the only moments with any heart) feel far too disconnected on a big stage. "I Don't Know How to Love Him", while performed very well, does not connect other than as a really well sung ballad. Now they have done the arena tour they should really downscale this production (which would be very easy to do) and get the show into a theatrical venue.
The cast I had seen do this show before on the DVD release and they all sounded fantastic, however the two male leads (Tim Minchin and Ben Forster) sound like they are struggling at times during this performance, there are many cracked notes and I'm not surprised, since the score is like vocal gymnastics and the duo have been with this production over a year.
Saying that, Minchin's performance of Judas is remarkable, full of passion and fire, you felt every moment. Forster does well as Jesus but the role itself has always been the most uninteresting. His performance of "Gethsemane" (despite a couple of cracked notes) is electrifying and his turn during the finale was beautifully done.
Melanie C throws herself in to the role as Mary and gives a winning performance. Chris Moyles is, well ... Chris Moyles. I must also mention Alex Hanson and Cavin Cornwall, who steal scenes and are both fantastic.
JCS is never going to be a perfect musical, but it does entertain and the score (performed by the brilliant band) sounds better than ever during this production. The arena tour is staged with excitement and originality; now, if it could only find it's heart, it would be a 5 star piece.