Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Out and about - Up and down

As the days get colder, and the nights longer, I have upped my scheduled entertainments.  Twice in a month I have been to the 02.  For two very different evenings.  Jesus Christ Superstar was written to be performed in an arena setting.  Andrew Lloyd Webber, who appeared on stage at the end of the show, told us he'd waited 42 years to get to the 02. 
Not to everyone's tastes, perhaps.  I thought it was spectacular.  The show has been revamped and boasted cutting-edge modernisation used last summer's London riots and the Occupy movement to create a contemporary backdrop for the rise of a new political leader who threatens the status quo of capitalism and state authority.
And it was loud!  Swinging effortlessly between heavy rock and ballad, the emotional connections in the triangle between the tortured but disaffected Judas, the weary Jesus and the yearning Mary Magdalene, are only further intensified Tim Rice's absolutely brilliant lyrics. 
I enjoyed each of the main characters performances played by a superb cast, as well as Chris Moyles' appearance, as Herod, a game show host sporting red crushed velvet demanding the audience vote whether this Jesus is a fraud or a lord!  Tim Minchin and co., certainly prove Superstar is a work of conceptual genius.
The superstars themselves (from left): 
Tim Minchin (Judas), Ben Forster (Jesus), Melanie Chisholm (Mary Magdalene) and Chris Moyles (King Herod)
The production offers a brilliantly simple new answer to the age-old question of what would Jesus Christ be doing if he came among us today...  In Laurence Connor's directorial vision - brought to vigorous, violent life - Jesus would be out with the St. Paul's protesters, mixing among dreadlocked anarchists, frightening the life out of grey-suited Roman bankers and spreading the Gospel via Twitter.  It is a persuasive vision, expressed with some magnificent back-projections of urban poverty and corporate comfort. 
On my return this weekend, to see Cirque du Soleil's most recent London offering, 'Michael Jackson:  The Immortal Tour' provided a very different ensemble.  Here, I would tend to agree with the lacklustre reviews that the show has received.  It left me cold. 
Whilst Michael Jackson never did play the O2 his music will certainly live on forever.  Hence the show, an appetite-whetting combination of one of pop’s great catalogues and the all-tumbling, all-trapezing troupe Cirque du Soleil.  It seemed a match made in heaven when I eagerly booked tickets as soon as they were released. 
In theory, it couldn’t fail; in practice it fell a bit flat.  It was as though something had stymied Cirque's usual innovation and creativity.  The most baffling disappointment was the near-absence of the troupe's trademark and spectacular acrobatics in favour of a series of Covent Garden-standard mimes, predictably lost in the vast arena.

Tellingly, after two hours of the most danceable music imaginable, none of the crowd were out of their seats.  Even more disappointing was the impersonation of Bubbles the chimp.  There were certainly world-class performers in front of us, but their skills were dismally underused.  As one critic said, it began to look and sound less like a celebration of Jackson's talent than a spectacular parody of it.  You win some, you lose some.  The mixed bag won't deter me from sampling more of what London has to offer as the winter weather draws in. 



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