A second coming has been a long time in the offing, given the success of the first run of the show at the Theatre on the Bay (producer Pieter Toerien’s own theatre). Now Jesus Christ Superstar is even bigger and better on the large stage of Cape Town’s Artscape Theatre.
Cito Otto reprises his role as the lead. A man more made for the role would be hard to find, combining as he does a heavily Christian-influenced upbringing with the experience of his day-job as front man for award-winning rock band, Wonderboom. Cito also brings to the stage a natural quiet intensity and a voice that can leap the octaves required without hesitation. His frenzied rock star pacing when yelling at and pleading with God in the Garden of Gethsemane brought the house down.
In contrast I was quite ready to be irritated with Nadine, who plays the role of Mary Magdalene. Firstly for the presumption of dropping her surname, and secondly for looking like Hannah Montana. But she was stunning, both visually and vocally, and her aura of gentleness ran through to her voice which, though a tad nasal on the ‘close your eyes’ sections of Everything’s Alright, steered clear of the Mariah Carey-style warbles in which so many lesser performers would have indulged, instead remaining pure and golden.
Jonathan Roxmouth as Judas had a sheer physical presence which forgave a dropped note here and there. And Anton Luitingh, who again took the role of Pontius Pilate (and resident director), was utterly superb. It’s a smallish role, but vital both in the show and in the story of Jesus. Within the two main songs – the Dream and the Trial – he faultlessly portrays a multi-faceted character, from smiling arrogance and spitting superciliousness through concern for true justice to deep unease at his own role. Luitingh doesn’t miss a step.
Then there was the breathtaking energy of the supporting cast who, whether playing devoted followers or lepers or apostles or soul girls, did not stop acting for one second. Their heartfelt exuberance contrasted perfectly with the detached posturing of Caiaphus and his priests, tall and haughty in white robes the hems of which were stained red, as though they had waded through a pool of blood.
For pure theatre, the market in the Temple was the scene of the show. Pole dancers in blonde afros rubbed shoulders with bare-chested wrestlers, gangsters in silver hoodies and pimps in tight gold jump suits while intimidating red-mohicaned pushers in long flaring coats grinned maniacally. The scene was so rich with life and invention that Jesus appeared as if from nowhere, scattering the wayward crowd with an ear-splitting screech of disgust.
Herod as a party-crazed 18th century dandy with a rasta wig was also hugely entertaining but somehow less convincing, and Tim Rice’s rapid-fire lyrics – a challenge throughout the production – were rather lost by Terence Bridgett, as though muffled by his thick make-up and swinging dreads.
The audience applauded every scene and every song, which made the dreamlike crucifixion scene all the more poignant, as the smoke and silence on stage were mirrored by the stillness in the auditorium. Everyone held their breath as the actors held their poses and the lights dimmed, leaving a backlit silhouette of the iconic figure seen above so many altars. Not a sound was heard until the lights came up and the audience leapt to its feet, thundering applause.
Jesus Christ Superstar is on at the Artscape Theatre 12 – 28 May 2011.