Sexy Jesus Danceby Linda Stupart / 21.05.2011
The thought of Cito (the lead singer of Wonderboom) playing Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar seemed destined to fulfill a plethora of adolescent fantasies. Susan Sontag defined “camp” as “convert[ing] the serious into the frivolous” – which, while it may not be a Biblical trait is certainly to be expected in a Tim Rice/Andrew Lloyd Webber ‘Rock Opera’, particularly when at least one of the main (male) characters is bound to be almost naked throughout.
Jesus Christ Superstar tells the story of the last seven days of Jesus’ life purely through song; shifting focus to an image of JC as a man facing the last days of his life before crucifixion. The play also elevates Judas (not only the title of the new Lady Gaga song, but also Jesus’ BFF who betrays him in the end) to the role of main character, or at least lead supporting actor. The relationship between Judas and Jesus is thus pivotal to the plot, a relationship defined, in this production, by over-the-top sexual tension and unrequited love; most apparent as a darkly sensual Judas sings “I don’t know how to love Him” while passionately rolling around on the stage.
And it’s not only Judas’ palpable “love” of JC that lends a (some might argue inappropriate) sexiness to the production. From the very beginning of the opera, Jesus Christ Superstar envelops the audience in all of the sensations of a charismatic Christian church’s youth camp so much so that I found myself overcome with an urge to clap my hands and praise the lord, but also overwhelmed with a desire to be fondled by the Pastor’s son behind the dormitories. Placard waving cheerful singers, synchronized Jesus dances and exaggerated healing rituals all lend to this feeling of a larger-than-life adolescent love for the Lord. These same songs and dances combined with the tiny crop tops, badly drawn on tattoos and perky good looks of the cast are also all geared towards ‘sexy’, and Mary Magdalene (played by super kitsch Akrikaans pop starlet Nádine) in her crotch-high, translucent ‘dress’ firmly places this reformed prostitute as more than just Jesus’ friend and foot-washer. Even Jesus’ pre-crucifixion flagellation is undercut by Cito’s intense pelvic thrusting each time the whip touches his back – totally hot, but not necessarily suitable to what would otherwise be a harrowing scene.
And this is where this local production falls short, not through the Mad Max/post apocalyptic khaki pants or the homoerotic undertones (though I could see how this might offend some Goddists) or even the contextually flummoxing dancing playboy bunnies – in fact, all this stuff is pretty great. It’s the lack of seriousness, reverence and silence afforded to the moments in the play that should be a little bit intense, sad and tormenting that stops Jesus Christ Superstar from being really great theatre. Even the crucifixion, on a magnificent giant Perspex cross, lacks real sincerity, with a strange jazz track playing in the background and the now-revealed tattoo on Cito’s glistening torso distracting from what might otherwise be the most tragic scene ever written/lived/recorded etc. (Yes, I am hedging my bets here).
The songs in this production are hilarious in the best kind of way, and the singing is completely convincing; imbued with the guilty melodrama of the kind of pop-alternative tune that you play on repeat for weeks just after breaking up with your first boyfriend. The acting, however, is consistently weak and the fact that two of the leads are famed South African singers is indicative of the way that this production should be consumed – as a musical as opposed to theatrical production, unless of course by ‘theatre’ you mean drag night at the Bronx or your nephew’s high school play. That’s not to say that the singing isn’t worth it. Just Cito’s voice (and aforementioned torso) makes Jesus Christ Superstar exciting and enjoyable, sometimes even transcending the pulp sensibility of the rest of the production as Jesus, on his knees, painfully warbles the word ‘die’ for what seems like an eternity.
Sex, violence and show tunes: If you’re a big Bible reader you’ll at least have a literary appreciation of the first two, but if you’re not comfortable with songs like “Kiss Me, Kiss Me Jesus”, or a cyberpunk drag-queen Herod (why Herod was styled as such; I don’t know), this production isn’t for you. If you’re not a big Bible reader, however, and the thought of two beautiful semi-clothed men playing out their sexual tension through song against the backdrop of a really great story (Love! War! Betrayal! Death! Redemption!) appeals to you and you happen to have some poppers to sneak into the theatre, then Jesus Christ Superstar is a pretty fabulous way to start your Saturday night on Rapture Day!
And the giant mechanical Perspex cross really is very pretty.