IF you’re only staging one musical a year then you need to make it something special. DAOS’ production of the award-winning Jesus Christ Superstar was something very special.
The show, which played over four performances at The Grove this week, will be remembered as am-dram at its finest and possibly the best production ever staged by this company.
It is the first time the gods of British musical theatre – Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Tim Rice – have allowed a British secular amateur group to perform their baby for fear that the quality may suffer in inexperienced hands.
The pair should have been at the Dunstable venue to see a master-class in quality singing and production.
Director Alan Goss stamped his own mark on the rock opera pitching it in modern dress with minimalist set and industrial strength cross for the finale.
A clever use of video footage meant there was little need to change set. But the most impressive bit of business came at the start of the second act when Da Vinci’s painting of The Last Supper dissolved into a real life tableau of the cast. It brought an initial gasp then applause from an astounded audience on the night I saw the musical.
It was rather camp and kitsch in places – The Apostles were overly touchy/feely, constantly hugging and glad-handing each other with some dressed like buff body builders rather than fishermen.
The costumes didn’t help. Alan Clarke’s Pontius Pilate first appeared scantily clad in (very) loose-fitting toga followed by storm-trooper’s uniform with faux leather trousers, jackboots and fetching lightweight breast plate while some of the acolytes looked ready to hit the gym or go skeet shooting.
But overall this was an unforgettable experience with stand out performances from the three key players – Aaron Prior in the title role, Paul Skinner as a tormented Judas and Jo Mills as Mary Magdalene.
If one were to nit-pick it may be said that DAOS appears to be drifting away from being strictly am-dram by casting Mr Prior, a professional singer and now theatrical agent, in the lead while Skinner, while making his third appearance for the company, also has a professional music career behind him.
Technically, on Friday night at least, there were also sound problems which threatened some of the show’s standout songs.
But the casting was clearly the right decision for this musical as both men gave powerful and compelling performances. The long-haired Prior was so charismatic that I could well believe that he has his own fan club off stage as well as on while his nemesis convinced as a character torn between his love for Jesus the man and his own beliefs. His betrayal scene was particularly emotional and well played.
There was an excellent cameo by Chris Young as an all singing, all dancing King Herod, while Laurence Sims and Christopher Lavin as the evil priests Annas and Caiaphas, were chilling.
The torture and eventual crucifixion scenes were brutally realistic and genuinely shocking.
This was a landmark production from a company that just gets better and better.
How do they top this ? Well, in May they return to The Grove for a one-off concert of show tunes followed by The Sound of Music next October. I hear Julie Andrews is looking to make a comeback....