Jesus Christ Superstar, Edinburgh Playhouse ****: stunning reworking of a classic rock opera

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The original soundtrack to Jesus Christ Superstar landed in our house sometime around 1972. Dusting off the dog-eared copy of the double album, complete with Ian Gillan and Yvonne Elliman on vocals, for a pre show listen - the first one in decades - I was surprised how many songs I knew off by heart.

Superstar came from the same decade that gave us The Who’s Tommy, and on vinyl, they both feel slightly dated, but this 2024 touring show has more than blown the dust off Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s rock opera and created something pretty darned good.

Timothy Sheader’s version is part rock show, part musical theatre with an industrial, contemporary stage setting complete with a live band among the steel pillars, and it works quite brilliantly as it tells the final weeks of Jesus’ life and his ultimate crucifixion.

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From the very start, its dazzling, unique dance routines - and huge kudos to choreographer Drew McOnie - it a real zap of energy. The repeated use of splayed hands across faces, and measured, sharp arm movements tied with the staggered additions into each dance sequence were visually compelling, and remained consistent throughout the two acts.

A scene from Jesus Christ Superstar which is touring the UK (Pic:  Paul Coltas)A scene from Jesus Christ Superstar which is touring the UK (Pic:  Paul Coltas)
A scene from Jesus Christ Superstar which is touring the UK (Pic: Paul Coltas)

Ian McIntosh is excellent in the lead role, portraying Jesus from a humble man to a deity, and delivering a stunning rendition of Gethsemene, while Hannah Richardson nailed the classic I Don’t Know How To Love Him - arguably two of great showstoppers. Shem Omari James also grew into the role of Judas as he portrayed the inner conflict that comes with betrayal. His ‘death song’ was equally powerful, although some of lyrics elsewhere were slightly muffled at times.

The stage setting saw actors grab microphones and sing direct to the audience as much as each other, and it worked incredibly well, and simple, stylised moments such as the staffs carried by the Priests flipping to double as microphone stands were just perfect; their own dance routines turning them into the baddest boy band you could possibly imagine!

Jesus Christ Superstar may be heading to its pension page, but this show has given it new and energetic life. A treat to finally see it live on stage.

> Jesus Christ Superstar is at the Playhouse Theatre, Edinburgh, until Saturday.