In reimagining Jesus and the Apostles as a rock band, director Oliver Driver delivers a hot mess; it's sometimes excellent, often obvious elements haven't yet quite cohered. It may not matter: the superstar of this Auckland Theatre Company production is the singing, and, boy, we hear some impressive pipes.
Laughton Kora brings intensity and surprising warmth to Judas while Kristian Lavercombe as Jesus is a fabulous rock belter. Julia Deans' tone and phrasing is beautiful and crystal clear in Mary Magdalene's ballads; while Richard Green adds haughtiness to his rich bass with rolled 'Rs' as Caiaphas (his bald and blond Pharisees are marvellously styled by Elizabeth Whiting in black robes). The eight-piece band, led by musical director Leon Radojkovic, delivers Andrew Lloyd Webber's complex counterpoints superbly.
Jesus doesn't have an early anthem opportunity to pose as charismatic rock star, so the gig posters we see when finding our seats leave us with unmet expectations. Instead, different characters take the spotlight and Tim Rice's sharp, sardonic lyrics show the meanings they've each imposed on Jesus - Threat, Fascination, Opportunity or Hope.
The Hope wears a "death metal lives" T-shirt (he believes death brings true meaning), while his red shoes suggest that he, like Dorothy in Oz, is duped by a charlatan god. But the interaction with his gang feels a bit high-school-musical: the chorus of acting students are rather self-conscious, and their costumes are mostly drab street clothes.
Playing in the round and behind the audience brings surprise (expect neck-craning) but the set of scaffolding and bulky furniture is underwhelming.
In the second half, things become visually and conceptually more interesting. Madeleine Sami as menacing buffoon tyrant Herod is a wonderful highlight, using comedy to emphasise shivery horror. The Garden of Gethsemane is an evening yum cha restaurant (although the brief ethnic stereotypes are cheap and nasty). Andrew Grainger as Pilate pulls all the swirling energy to a pinpoint focus in his scene with Jesus.
More audio than visual, but what exceptional audio it is.
What: Jesus Christ Superstar
When: Until December 14
Where: Q Theatre, Queen St