Culture critic Ruth Horsburgh reviews the Spectacular Classics concert at Symphony Hall, enjoying an evening of stunning performances.Written by Ruth Horsburgh on 20th November 2017
Review: GMTG presents… Jesus Christ Superstar
Culture critic Rosie Solomon reviews GMTG'S highly polished production of Andrew Lloyd-Webber's controversial musical
Being not in possession of the biggest wealth of musical theatre knowledge going (my only foray into GMTG was almost definitely a fluke – I was in Our House in my first year purely because I was brought up on Madness as a child), it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I anticipated sitting through the first full musical being performed at the Guild which I knew nothing about prior to booking my ticket.
“A refreshing change from previous musicals where the hard work of the musicians goes largely unnoticed
The first thing I noticed when I stepped into the Deb Hall (ignoring the warnings about sitting in the splash zone of “innocent blood” – I’m a front row kinda gal) was the placement of the band – onstage, behind the actors. Will Tuckwell specifically was given some time to shine during a particularly epic guitar solo, in which he was illuminated by a spotlight whilst on the band’s platform. A refreshing change from previous musicals where the hard work of the musicians goes largely unnoticed, this unusual element really added to the minimalist and bare-boned set of the show; the 90s-grunge themed costume choice was a strong one as well.
The lighting design was breath-taking from the offset, with spotlights illuminating the band in a silhouette, the audience, and eventually resting on Tom Noyes as Judas, who began the show. Noyes gave a strong opening to the show with an excellent vocal performance which only grew stronger as the show continued, culminating in his death scene which was a real highlight of the show for me, his voice cracking to let a true vulnerability come through whilst maintaining solid vocals.
“Geddy Stringer’s performance of 'Gethsemane' was truly spectacular
Geddy Stringer’s performance as Jesus himself was also one which improved throughout the show. After a few wobbles in his first solo, he proved himself again and again in every solo after, and his performance in 'Gethsemane' was truly spectacular and displayed an incredibly impressive range, doing justice to an extremely challenging vocal performance. He brought an extra dimension to the character of Jesus, managing to extract a sense of his humanity throughout the whole of the second act, for which his performance was admittedly much stronger than the first.
The priests’ scenes were also noteworthy – particularly James Jackson’s first note which was low enough to shake the floorboards. Lydia Aaronson also gave an incredibly strong performance as the sassy – and usually male – Annas. Her facial expressions really gave some life to an otherwise two-dimensional character and made her scenes ones I really looked forward to. It begs the question why more females are not given male roles more often in GMTG, as there are plenty of talented women in our midst who are rarely given the opportunity to shine in this way. Matt Allison’s performance as Pilate was also a stand out one. His voice was perhaps the most controlled of the whole cast and his trial of Jesus at the show’s climax was truly one to behold. He commanded the stage from his first entrance and is definitely someone to watch in the future.
“Ellie Morrow’s choreography, although used relatively sparsely for a musical, was put to great use by the dance leaders
Ellie Morrow’s choreography, although used relatively sparsely for a musical, was put to great use by the dance leaders, specifically Hattie Kemish who commanded the whole room without a doubt, whether in the ensemble number 'Simon Zealotes/ Poor Jerusalem', or the short section at the beginning of 'The Temple'. King Herod’s song in the second act was clearly the big dance number of the piece. This number is so out-of-place in a musical which is otherwise very muted and grim, but the cast performed it with conviction and managed to pull it off, with thanks to Morrow’s stellar choreography.
Millie Harris’ touching, engaging and note-perfect performance as Mary Magdalene was an absolute triumph. Playing the only female lead in a musical is not something any performer should take on lightly, and Harris did not let anyone down. Her heart-breaking close to the show brought so much genuine emotion and humanity to the performance, something which can occasionally be lost in musicals in amidst all the warbling and jazz hands.
“I surprised myself and really enjoyed my time watching Jesus Christ Superstar
I surprised myself and really enjoyed my time watching Jesus Christ Superstar. I said before that I am not one for musicals but I could really appreciate the hard work that went in to making a show this slick and professional and I think the bold choice of minimalizing the set and costume meant that the music and acting could really take centre stage – for this, Fionnuala Hills and Aaron Sood must be credited. But it was the work of some genuinely talented actors who brought these characters to life through song and reminding those watching that, whilst Jesus was the messiah, he was also just a man.