Jesus Christ Superstar , UK tour 2024 - Photo courtesy Norwich Theatre

It’s sometimes called the greatest story ever told – and this is a pretty rumbunctious telling of it.

Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s 50-year-old rock concept album is taken back to its roots with screeching guitars and a hurtling barrage of songs as the latter days of Jesus’ life unfold.

It’s a shame they didn’t knock the metronome back a few notches though as the pace means many of the lyrics are lost, with ensemble pieces often more a wall of sound than distinct songs.

As Judas, much of Shem Omari James’ delivery is lost to poor diction, and together with Ian McIntosh (Jesus) he seems infected with X-Factor-itis – the belief that emotion is best expressed by vocal gymnastics and gunning for it rather than tonal control. His reprise of I Don’t Know How to Love Him is a hard listen for the wrong reasons.

Jesus Christ Superstar , UK tour 2024 - Photo courtesy Norwich Theatre
Jesus Christ Superstar , UK tour 2024 – Photo courtesy Norwich Theatre

Timothy Sheader’s direction dispenses with most of the interaction between the leads, instead opting for what feels like a series of solo songs. The performers are surrounded by the ensemble and Drew McOnie’s hyperactive choreography: there’s never one movement when there could be twelve, and one dancer is despatched to pulsate inexplicably around Jesus like a very large moth to a flame.

Tom Scutt’s design is bold – though it’s hard to tell whether the symbolism of a giant inverted cross-come-runway dominating the stage was deliberate or not. Either way, its potential is mostly unexplored by Lee Curran’s pedestrian lighting, which largely consists of gently flashing warm white washes and the occasional spotlight. I did wonder if someone was missing cues for the first couple of songs.

Stronger performances from Hannah Richardson (Mary Magdalene), Ryan O’Donnell (Pilate), and Timo Tatzber (an outrageously camp Herod) help pull things back a bit but overall this feels like a production that never fully delivers on its promise.

All that said, much of the first night audience at Norwich Theatre Royal gave it a standing ovation so perhaps they saw something I didn’t. Or perhaps, as the story itself implies, you should be careful trusting in the wisdom of crowds.

  • Jesus Christ Superstar continues at Norwich Theatre Royal until Saturday, April 13, 2024, as part of it’s UK tour.