Jesus Christ Superstar at the Open Air Theatre: Theatre in the time of Corona

By Constance Drugeot

Picture: Mark Senior

As you can imagine, with the spread of the pandemic and the lockdown and social distancing measures, I haven’t been to the theatre since March. So when I heard that the Open Air Theatre was doing a production of Jesus Christ Superstar: The Concert this summer, I didn’t hesitate one second. Not only had I not seen a show for six months, but I had also never seen this musical before. I couldn’t believe I was actually going to see a live musical in an actual theatre. It is amazing how many things we take for granted. 

So, on August 30th, I met my friend at Regent’s Park in anticipation of the show. I think I still wasn’t fully realizing. But when I first stepped inside the Open Air Theatre, it hit me. I was going to see a live performance again! I almost cried with joy. Nothing can compare to the feeling of being inside a theatre, waiting for the show to start. Especially when it has been so long! Yet, nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to see…

But before I tell you all about this magical experience, let’s talk about safety!

In order to make this possible, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre had to follow the social distancing measures imposed by the government. Hence, single seats are extremely restricted and most seats are for a party of 2 or more. The use of a mask is mandatory at all time inside the theatre. Before we entered, our temperature was taken and there were ushers in every spot to make sure we were respecting the safety measures. A one-way system was also put into place. Regarding the seatings, there were two seats in-between each group separating from other people and every other was empty to guarantee the safety of everyone. 

To be honest, I wasn’t very worried because I knew they wouldn’t authorize a show if it wasn’t safe and when I went, it had been playing for almost a month, so I would have heard if the social distancing measures hadn’t been respected. But seeing it with my own eyes, I can assure you that it was perfectly safe. 

Back to the show. But before I start, I just want to remind everyone – and, especially my non-UK readers – that this theatre is an open-air theatre so we were outside and, since I went to the evening performance, we were blessed by a beautiful sunset mid-show before the night fell in. 

For anyone who might not know, Jesus Christ Superstar is a rock opera relating the last week of Jesus’ life, ending with his crucifixion. The music doesn’t have any spoken dialogue and features music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice. To make it work in the current conditions, the show was made into a concert version of 90 minutes with no interval. 

As soon as it started, it felt like no time had passed at all. I was back home. I was ready to enjoy 200%, and I did. The music echoed in the theatre, the performers appeared on stage, dancing, and I was completely transported into their world. Anyone who is familiar with the musical knows how powerful the music is, especially at the very beginning, and this production didn’t disappoint. The musicians were on fire and they brought the show to life. They filled the theatre with emotion and passion. 

Talking about passion… The performers put everything they had on the stage. Their performances were absolutely out of this world. So fiery, so intense, so heartfelt. I could feel their energy throughout my whole body as if I was on stage with them – and I was sitting in the very last row. From the main characters to the ensemble, everyone was at the top of their game. I guess that they were as eager to get back on stage as we were to watch them. Truly, they gave me chills all night long. Let’s not forget the stunning choreography! Despite having to respect the safety measures, the dancing was simply electrifying and so energetic. Everyone gave their all and the audience could feel it. It remains one of my favourite highlights of this production! 

Featuring Declan Bennett as Jesus, Tyrone Huntley as Judas, Anoushka Lucas as Mary, the show was truly special. Declan gave a very strong and emotional performance, bringing sensitivity and empathy to the character. He put everything in his performance and when we reached the end, I had chills all over. Tyrone was an amazing Judas, passionate and fiery. He gave a very personal interpretation of the character. His performance during ‘Juda’s Death’ was so powerful that I couldn’t help but feel for him. Anoushka as Mary was absolutely stunning. Her voice was smooth and beautiful and her rendition of ‘I Don’t Know How To Love Him’ was “heavenly”. Anoushka’s presence throughout the show was riveting. 

My personal highlight of the night was Genesis Lynea as the Soul Singer/Mob Leader. Their performance was incredible. In my opinion, they stole the show. Genesis was the first to come on stage, leading the ensemble in the dancing, making their character very significant, appearing during crucial times. Always standing in the middle of the stage, capturing the audience’s attention – and heart -, Genesis’s presence is extremely powerful. 

Powerful too is the amount of symbolism used throughout the show. Productions at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre are often full of symbolism – with a bare stage and almost no props – but it doesn’t stop me from being amazed every single time. With the social distancing measures in place, the performers themselves had to be even more careful. Hence, grey paint and glitter became the main features in the show. For instance, when Judas receives the money from the Pharisees for denouncing Jesus, he reaches inside the box and his hands get all covered in the paint, symbolizing his treason. He has blood on his hands. Or again, when Mary is supposed to give Jesus a kiss – which she cannot at the time -, she barely touches him, leaving paint on his cheek, a physical mark of her love.  

One scene which affected me particularly was ‘Trial Before Pilate’, when Jesus is given 40 lashes. Genesis Lynea was the executioner and glitter was used again but, this time, to give the sentence. It was a shocking scene – as Jesus is being beaten – yet beautiful as the music, the dancing and the glitter made it all the more powerful and hypnotizing. Declan’s acting in this scene was very strong, and Genesis managed to once again capture the audience’s attention. 

Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre’s Jesus Christ Superstar: The Concert was everything. It made me relive the power and magic of theatre! The cast and the creative team poured their entire heart and soul into the show and I could definitely feel it. The energy and passion on that stage were unbelievable. This production is unquestionably something to see.  

That evening was beyond my wildest imagination and I feel so grateful to have witnessed it. It was the best production to see after such a long intermission. I hope that many shows will be able to follow suit.   

This is a very strange and scary time, but knowing that theatre is still strong and fighting, makes me unbelievably hopeful for our industry. This is just a new beginning.

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