Walking into a CLOC show, one always expects something fairly impressive. Be it the atmosphere and grandeur of St Kilda’s National Theatre, or simply the company’s proven track record of staging consistently extraordinary examples of musical theatre: you know from the moment you take your seat something remarkable is about to happen. However, I think it is fair to say not even the CLOC loyal were prepared for something as unique and striking as this year’s October performance of Jesus Christ Superstar; in which director Shaun Kingma brought to life a show that exists on its own level among amateur and professional shows alike.
Re-contextualised to a post-apocalyptic, Tank Girl/Mad-Max – esque world, CLOC’s “Jesus Christ Superstar” takes advantage of its brand new setting and traditionally inappropriate creative choices to stress both the eternal relevance and accessibility of one of the most iconic musicals of all time. Quoting Tim Rice in his Director’s note, Kingma wrote that “It happens that we don’t see Christ as God, but simply the right man at the right time in the right place…” – a quote that seemingly became the cornerstone in which his entire approach to the performance was based. By not totally robbing but simply diluting the plot’s biblical roots, the show allowed its audience to place their focus and attention on the specific choices made in the portrayal of these figures rather than approach the play with pre-conceived notions of a character’s motivations. In this way, the character of Jesus can really have been substituted for any man or woman that has found themselves in a point of influence during civil unrest, a voice for the oppressed or an icon of hope. In “Jesus Christ Superstar” we don’t meet Jesus the God, we meet that man burdened by the desperations of the masses and victim to the corruption of the local government.
Of course in the world of theatre, ultimately the ideas and efforts of a director are null and void without a confident and talented cast to do them justice… though evidently this doesn’t appear to be an issue CLOC needs to concern themselves with. Leading the charge in the titular role is Daniel Mottau, who performed admirably as the ever-tortured Jesus, with Scott MacKenzie’s Judas serving well as the yin to his yang. The dynamic between these two characters forms such a crucial part of the show’s emotional value, and luckily the relationship that Mottau and MacKenzie created together did not go amiss. While of course there was a rivalry between the two, it was instead the moments of empathy, similarity and very rarely understanding that were the most profound. While both roles were incredibly demanding vocally, both rose to the challenges presented effortlessly; with MacKenzie specifically wowing the audience a number of times throughout the course of the night.
When I interviewed Director Shaun Kingma last week, he mentioned that the role of Mary Magdalene was one that was notoriously underwritten. In this performance however it was clear that the angle taken by both Kingma and actor Katie Weston was taken with the intention to shine a light on how essential she is as a point of reason and support. Weston invested such a high level of sincerity in every waking moment of her performance that made it easy for the audience to capture and share in the giant internal conflict Mary faces throughout the show’s narrative making her a clear highlight of the night. Similarly impressive was Henry Shaw who astonished audiences with his haunting portrayal of Caiaphas. Rounding out the supporting cast was Adrian Carr as King Herod and Ian Andrew as Pilate, who while each came across as traditionally quite obtuse choices initially were both extremely memorable. The chorus, ever as important as each of the lead roles, shone as well – tackling each scene with a certain amount of energy and belief in the world created around them that was contagious to all in the audience.
Musically, Tyson Legg leads a phenomenal orchestra that didn’t once falter to capture the size of the show while both imposing and dictating the atmosphere of the piece. Married with Kingma’s stunning and versatile set as well both Brad Alcock’s inventive lighting design and Vicky Horne’s inspired costume design, the show managed to maintain the same level of quality and professionalism both on the stage and off.
I mentioned to Shaun in our interview that if Jesus Christ Superstar didn’t receive recognition in this year’s Guild awards there would be riots in the streets, and I stand by that claim as much in this review as I did then. Jesus Christ Superstar was simply the most powerful, most professional and most memorable show I’ve seen produced in 2016 so far. It was in truth an incredible example of what talent, creativity, passion and a ridiculous amount of hardwork can achieve – setting the bar (or the cross) for not only every amateur production to meet, but in many cases professional musicals as well.
Watch our interview with Director Shaun Kingma below: