Review: Jesus Christ Superstar at Cardiff Open Air Theatre Festival

*disclaimer: I was given free tickets to Jesus Christ Superstar at Cardiff’s Open Air Theatre Festival in exchange for this review. All opinions are my own.

Jesus Christ Superstar

“great quality theatre”

The first thing I wanted to mention in this review is that I won’t be giving it a star rating. This is becuase I didn’t think it fair to rate the show on the same level that I normally review “professional” shows on. However, if you are looking for top quality theatre in Cardiff, whether this production of Jesus Christ Superstar is regarded as “professional” or not, this is where you need to look because the talent and direction was outstanding.

I had never attedned Cardiff’s Open Air Theatre Festival before, despite this being its 30th year, but I have since learned that the festival is mainly volunteer run, it runs in Sophia Gardens every summer putting on multiple shows, and I will certainly be returning!

I had also never seen or really listened to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s classic musical Jesus Christ Superstar before, so there were a lot of new expereinces for me in this evening.

I’m going to start with the negatives, all of which were to do with the show itself, rather than this specific production. To put it frankly, I didn’t like the story, I didn’t find the songs particularly catchy and the style of the musical wasn’t to my taste. But I also know that I am generally not a fan of Andrew Lloyd Webber, so all of these comments are just personal tastes. However, if you are a fan of this classic Webber musical, you’re in for a treat becuase the production was absolutely fantastic.

Ashley Richards and the cast of Jesus Christ Superstar at Cardiff’s Open Air Theatre

The chair of the Theatre Festival, Peter Harding-Roberts says in the programme that the Theatre Festival is neither professional nor amateur, it combines people who love to perform as well as aspiring/retired actotrs to create their cast and crew, and boy were they talented. Ashely Richards as Jesus and Owain Sullivan as Judas gave incredible performances, and after his final solo, Ashley Richards received an enormous round of applause from a captivated audience.

Giacollina Collins, David Stephens and Dan Collier-Roberts as Mary, Pilate and Herod respectively were also superb, all three with very impressive vocals, stage presence, and relationships to other characters. King Herod’s Song was one of my favourites, and if you know the show then you can only imagine why. I won’t give any spoilers but I was laughing throughout this number and Dan Collier-Roberts had no shame in this fabulous performance.

David Millard as Peter also gives a memorable performance and I found myself drawn to him during a lot of ensemble numbers.

Giacollina Collins, Ashley Richards and the cast of Jesus Christ Superstar at Cardiff’s Open Air Theatre

In a small conversation with the director before the show, I was informed that the team worked a lot with the ensemble for this show, and this is hugely clear as the ensemble numbers were catchy, engaging, their dance routines were slick and actors all worked very well together.

The direction and choreography by Richard Tunley was brilliant, and something I also really enjoyed about this production was the physical set that the cast worked around, and the choice of setting. Having some of the stage raised and some on the floor made for some great use of levels, and did wonders for portraying the battle of power in the show, and worked brilliantly for scenes such as Judas’ final scene and the protestors vs. the Romans. The incredibly modern setting for the show was also a bold, yet effective choice, as it made the show all the more relevant to today. It reminded me of the recent production of Hair, particularly when King Herod claimed that news of Jesus was “fake news” – a brilliant addition to the show.

The cast of Jesus Christ Superstar at Cardiff’s Open Air Theatre

For an “amateur” show, the whole performance was fantastic; from the aforementioned set, the costumes, props, and of course the incredibly talented cast, I would hesitate to call it an amateur show, and completely understand the idea of a “pro amare” show, that chair Peter Harding-Roberts explains.

I absolutely love outdoor theatre – it adds something new to a production and makes for a great night out and experience. Yes, there were a few issues that you would expect from a production outdoors, from a microphone cutting out at a VERY unfortunate moment in the show, to the wind being picked up on someone’s mic, but these were minimal and did not take away from the great quality that this production of Jesus Christ Superstar offered.

Owain Sullivan and the cast of Jesus Christ Superstar at Cardiff’s Open Air Theatre

As I said, this show is not my favourite. I personally find the story hard to follow and the music not particularly memorable, but if you are looking for some great quality theatre at low prices this summer, get yourselves down to the Open Air Theatre Festival in Sophia Gardens and you won’t be disappointed. Support your local theatre and try something new this summer!

You can buy tickets for Jesus Christ Superstar at Cardif Open Air Theatre Festial here. Cardif Open Air Theatre Festival runs until 3 August 2019, and also features Disney’s The Little Memaid Jr.


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