REVIEW: Jesus Christ Superstar, Alnwick Stage Musical Society, Alnwick Playhouse (Oct 12-16)

I will not have been the only member of the audience fighting back the tears on Tuesday night (October 12) as the Playhouse at last welcomed Alnwick Stage Musical Society’s inspiration performance of Jesus Christ Superstar.

Friday, 15th October 2021, 6:51 pm
Updated Friday, 15th October 2021, 6:54 pm
Darren Lewis as Jesus in the Alnwick Stage Musical Society production of Jesus Christ Superstar. Picture by Michael Pearson
Darren Lewis as Jesus in the Alnwick Stage Musical Society production of Jesus Christ Superstar. Picture by Michael Pearson

The show was originally scheduled for 2020 – rehearsals had gone well, the cast was raring to go, the programme had been printed – then Covid struck. The first performance was due to be held on March 24, a day after the announcement of the first lockdown – the rest is history.

Even then, the award-winning Society had been out of its spiritual home for a year while the theatre underwent a major restoration.

How emotional was it, therefore, to see an auditorium once more packed with people itching to see the show get under way? It was heaven.

Mark Stenton as Judas and dancers Juliette Bell and Leonie Airlie in the Alnwick Stage Musical Society production of Jesus Christ Superstar. Picture by Michael Pearson

Only the best drama groups dare take on this Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice classic chronicling the last few days of the life of Jesus – it’s a technically challenging rock-opera that requires largely male lead roles. And they made it look easy – what an outstanding production – everything from the stupendous singing, magnificent music and amazing acting to the set, costumes, lighting and choreography was top notch!

In recent years, the company has won accolades in the National Operatic and Dramatic Association (NODA) awards. This year, they will surely sweep the board.

From the first notes of the Overture played by the fabulous band led by Peter Brown, we knew we were in for a polished, professional performance.

Graphic designer and singer-songwriter Mark Stenton, threw absolutely everything into the role of Judas, heart and soul. He set the bar impossibly high with the first number, sung with high emotion and great gusto, but he maintained that standard through to the rousing Superstar, a real tour de force that was worth the ticket money alone.

Rebecca Corbett as Mary in the Alnwick Stage Musical Society production of Jesus Christ Superstar. Picture by Michael Pearson.

His portrayal of a tortured disciple, ostracised for betraying Jesus, was nothing short of a miracle. My battle against those tears failed during Judas’ Death – a rendition that could grace any stage in the land.

Not far behind were Darren Lewis in the title role and Society newcomer Rebecca Corbett as Mary. They both performed big, big songs reserved for the very best the West End has produced and they acquitted themselves extremely well.

Darren was up against versions of Gethsemane by the Michaels, Ball and Crawford, among many others, yet he brought similar shivers down the back bone and a lump to the throat.

While Rebecca’s version of I Don’t Know How to Love Him was delivered with power and passion – move over Yvonne Elliman, Elaine Paige et al.

Rebecca graduated from drama school with a first class honours degree in musical theatre, turning professional and touring on cruise ships – and it showed – she was confident, convincing and a joy to watch.

The emotion the trio injected into their performances was frightening.

But the three principals weren’t the only superstars on the Alnwick stage – there was a myriad of sublime cameos from Anthony Stoker as an assured and commanding Pilate; David Wilson with an excellently camp King Herod’s Song; the reliably good Gary Brown as Annas; the crystal clear voice of Matthew Winter as Peter; and all the other apostles, priests, soldiers and an all-female ensemble.

The 18-month delay meant a few changes and additions to the cast, plus a raft of understudies in the event of key cast members falling ill – a first for the society.

It also resulted in just two dancers, the stylish Leonie Airlie and Juliette Bell, who coped admirably and added more than the required level of pizzazz.

Peter’s excellent band, Jack Elsdon on keyboards, David Smith on guitar, Kirsteen Creasey on bass and Mark Gray on percussion, deserve another name check for their non-stop performance. Their contribution to such a powerful production cannot be underestimated.

Congratulations to director and ASMS founder Norman Luke and his team – you deserve every accolade that comes your way.

It had been well worth the wait. The Playhouse was buzzing and its resurrection was complete.

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