John Farnham as Jesus. Kate Ceberano as Mary Magdalene. John Waters as Pontius Pilate. John Stevens as Judas. Angry Anderson as Herod.
NONSENSICAL NOSTALGIA. By: BRUCE ELDER. 5th August 1992. Sydney Morning Herald
Blame it on the babyboomers. As this vast phalanx of cultural commissars march relentlessly onwards, it seems as though the whole world must march with them. How else can you explain the fact that 210,000 people have paid somewhere in excess of $7 million to see John Farnham, Kate Ceberano, Angry Anderson, Jon Stevens and John Waters in a musical which was a novelty idea back in 1969 but, in 1992, is a very dubious and dated proposition. This is baby-boom nostalgia gone mad.
The problem with this production of Jesus Christ Superstar is that it has no idea what it wants to be. It cannot decide whether it wants to be a spectacle, a piece of theatre, or a rock concert featuring an actor and a bunch of well-known rock and pop singers.
As a spectacle for baby-boomers to gawp at it probably works. There is lots of interesting technology - the stage moves, a crucifix magically rises to lift John Farnham far above the audience, lasers are used to great effect -and the show culminates in a pyrotechnic display far above the heads of the audience.
As theatre it is just nonsensical. There are times when the dramatic action of the "musical" is treated with disdain. What kind of theatrical conception allows Mary Magdalene (Kate Ceberano) to sing "Let me try to cool down your face a bit" to Jesus (John Farnham) while one character is facing the audience on one side of the circular stage and the other character is a dozen metres away on the other side of the stage.
How can the chorus's most interesting number, The Temple (during a scene where Jesus forces the merchants and moneylenders out of the temple), be presented by a group of singers waving their arms around in a way that has nothing to do with picking the finest wine, laying bets or borrowing cash?
And how can King Herod's Song, a wonderfully camp piece of light relief, be performed absolutely straight by Angry Anderson dressed like some diminutive town sheriff in a bad Randolph Scott movie?
John Farnham is totally unpersuasive as Jesus. He certainly doesn't invest Jesus with even a hint of compassion. When he is finally crucified there is not a hint of concern or pity.
Jon Stevens, the lead singer with Noiseworks, is little better as Judas. Dressed like some pub rocker, he spends most of his time posturing like a rock star. Unfortunately, in the process, he leaves us with a Judas who is neither evil, manipulative nor sinful.
As a rock concert, it fails because it cannot decide whether it is a straight concert or a theatre performance.
Kate Ceberano, who is unambiguously the best thing about the entire show, makes a plausible Mary Magdalene, but Mary's rather wispy and self-consciously pretty songs - Everything's All Right and I don't know How to Love Him -hardly offer much of a workout for Ceberano's excellent voice.
The conclusion, surprisingly, is that for all its thinness of characterisation, Jesus Christ Superstar still seems to need real actors, real theatrical situations, and some sense of drama to make it work effectively. In this production, all those elements have been drained away and all that is left is a number of pop stars singing songs that don't really suit their voices - songs with which they have very little empathy.
But beyond these points there is always the problem of Andrew Lloyd Webber's music. Harry M. Miller may suggest in the program that Jesus Christ Superstar is "the best musical" (isn't that an oxymoron?), but it would be more reasonable to argue that a passionate dislike of the entire Andrew Lloyd Webber canon could be a reasonable definition of musical good taste.
So, what is it that is so offensive about Lloyd Webber's music? It is not the fact that his music is a kind of aural answer to fast food. It is not because his enterprises have all the aesthetic sensitivity of the Big Prawn. It is not because all his songs sound as though they were written by Barry Manilow on an off day. s that his entire output is kitsch. It is pitched at the lowest common denominator in music. It is designed to appeal to people who cannot discriminate between real emotion and the sentimental claptrap which is passed off as passion by daytime soap operas and cheap love comics.
Sure he may be hugely successful - but so are fast food chains and no-one would ever seriously argue that a pizza, a piece of deep-fried chicken or a hamburger could be considered haute cuisine. And Jesus Christ Superstar sure ain't musical haute cuisine.
BABY BOOM NOSTALGIA LACKING SOUL. By BRUCE ELDER. 4th August 1992. Sydney Morning Herald
The spotlights reaching into the night sky, the trad jazz band out the front, the photographers eager to grab pix of everyone from Bob Hawke and John Fahey to the cast of E Street, gave notice that this was supposed to be the theatrical event of the year.
The reality was less persuasive. In spite of the fact that 210,000 people will see Jesus Christ Superstar over the next 21 nights, this is really a huge exercise in baby boom nostalgia. It is a pleasant night out, an event, an opportunity to see some of Australia's most successful and lionised pop/rock singers, but as a piece of theatre it fails to impress.
If your idea of Herod is Angry Anderson in a stetson with very little sense of the camp humour which made the original character so memorable; or if your idea of the Pharisees is a couple of New York rappers in shades and bomber jackets; if your idea of Mary Magdalene is Kate Ceberano dressed like a gypsy, or Pontius Pilate is John Waters dressed like a Tsarist aristocrat, or Judas(Jon Stevens from Noiseworks) is a pub rocker complete with hairy chest, leather trousers and sleeveless jacket, then this production of Jesus Christ Superstar is for you.
If you don't mind that Judas is about as menacing as the average bank clerk, or that John Farnham cannot invest Jesus with even a hint of compassion, then you'll love this production.
The technology - the lasers, the cross that rises from the floor, the moving stage - is impressive and the band is more than competent. But in the end, this is a concert without a soul. It is a piece of theatre which fails to make any real emotional connection with the audience. It demonstrates (and didn't everyone know this anyway) that as a theatrical producer Harry M. Miller is a truly great salesman.
SHOW GOES ON AND ON AS RESURRECTION TURNS TO RECORD
By PETER COCHRANE. 3rd August 1992. Sydney Morning Herald
In 1986, the promoter Garry van Egmond rocked the pop scene when the touring English group Dire Straits played a total of 20 concerts at the Sydney Entertainment Centre. Six years later, Harry M. Miller, born-again showman, has broken that record. Tickets went on sale yesterday for the 21st performance of Jesus Christ Superstar, a matinee next Saturday.
Van Egmond is not likely to feel any regret over the breaking of the Dire Straits record - he is a partner with Mr Miller and the International Management Group in the second coming of Superstar. The box office also opened in Melbourne yesterday for show No 17, again a matinee, again, the last show scheduled for that city. Ditto Perth and Adelaide. The Brisbane season is already a sell-out. With 700,000 tickets sold nation-wide to date, and the cast recording at No 1 on the CD charts, Mr Miller's prayers have been answered.
Superstar was a hit for him 20 years ago, with 2.5 million in ticket sales during a four-year run. The Herald reviewer, Roger Covell, wrote of the opening night at the Capitol Theatre: "If Jesus Christ Superstar ... retains a prolonged hold on audiences, it will be largely because of its uncommonly elaborate mess of gadgetry.
"It is a bag of tricks which, after an exceedingly tame first half, becomes more interesting and dramatic as the evening progresses."
This time round, Mr Miller is banking on a cast of established pop stars(John Farnham, Kate Ceberano, Jon Stevens, Angry Anderson and the actor/singer John Waters), a cross-shaped stage, state-of-the-art lighting, and nostalgia for the '70s. The last-mentioned has also been responsible for successful revivals of Hair and Godspell.
However, a new staged version of Superstar, rumoured for 1993, is now on the backburner, he said last night.
"This concert-in-the-round is breaking new ground," he boasted. "I call it a cross between the traditional robes-beard-and-sandals production and a straight concert. As a matter of fact, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice (the show's composer and lyricist) have stopped licensing new productions of Superstar until they've had a chance to see my show, which they will in Adelaide in about three weeks' time."
After just one preview last night, Superstar opens tonight. The cast is"very nervous", Mr Miller conceded, "but they have enormous energy - enough for any one of them to light a 1,000-watt bulb".
Not content with a resurrection, albeit in a new guise, Mr Miller is preparing to announce on September 12 details of his next production: the Australian premiere of the West End and Broadway hit drama M. Butterfly, a modern reworking of Madam Butterfly. It is expected to open in Melbourne next year.
In showbusiness, timing is all. He said last night that he had sat on the rights to both Superstar and M. Butterfly for three years.
For Harry M. and cast the second coming is sweeter still
By: Gareth Boreham. 3rd August 1992. The Age
The cast of the revitalised `Jesus Christ Superstar' production whooped and hollered, the entrepreneurs Harry Miller and Glenn Wheatley talked a lot, and the singer John Farnham, the latest Jesus, punched the air in delight.
The reason for yesterday's public display of jolliness was the musical's soundtrack's achieving platinum status (having sold 50,000 copies), even before the show starts tonight at Sydney Entertainment Centre.
The concert, which is produced by Mr Miller, features Farnham in the title role, Kate Ceberano as Mary Magdalene, John Waters as Pilate and Jon Stevens, the former front-man for the band Noiseworks, playing Judas. The glossy-scalped warbler Angry Anderson will be Herod, but his diminutive, tattooed form was not present at yesterday's celebrations because of a foot injury sustained during some energetic rehearsals on the show's revolving stage.
The production, which Mr Miller first brought to the Australian stage in 1972, has attracted huge interest, with more than 700,000 tickets already sold for the 65 shows across Australia.
But Mr Miller was keen to have it known that there were still some left, including tickets for the 18 Melbourne shows.
The superlatives that have been flowing in the build-up to the production, which travels to Melbourne's National Tennis Centre on 14 August, continued unabated yesterday, when each cast member was presented with a copy of the platinum album.
Mr Wheatley, whose record company, Emerald City, produced the soundtrack, said audiences were in for ``something special". Mr Miller echoed the compliment, saying there had never been an album ``anywhere in the world as good as this and as unique as this".
Farnham said the director, Richard Wherrett, had put the show together ``absolutely beautifully". ``The set looks incredible. The lighting is going to blow people's heads off. All we have got to do is remember our words and go from there," he said.
It was perhaps little wonder that Farnham had noticed ``a lot of expectation" surrounding the extravaganza.
Audiences can expect him to portray a more angry Jesus than in previous productions. What happened to the man, Farnham said, ``would have got up my nose".