ROCK OPERA Jesus Christ Superstar Lyceum Theatre, London

Sir Henry Irving would doubtless have savoured the irony in our having to wait until the second coming for the reopening of his Lyceum Theatre. But imagine his confusion upon entering the newly refurbished auditorium (and contrary to advance reports, it is neither bright nor garish but rather subdued, musty, like an old theatre) to discover the audience seated but work apparently still in progress. Primitive wooden scaffolding shrouds the stage boxes and proscenium, the elaborate gilding visibly decayed and decaying as Sir Henry's pride and joy appears to vanish into an unfinished excavation. The remains of a Roman arena (designer John Napier) have been hewn from a backdrop of crumbling earth and rock. We're digging out the past.

1971, to be precise. The year of Jesus Christ Superstar. The two long-haired, flared-trousered Englishmen who wrote it called it a "rock opera" (quaint, eh?), and though its tone remains very much of its time, its message deeply rooted in Sixties youth culture, its insidiously memorable tunes sometimes too sweet, too innocent (or even too cheesy) to be true, the visceral impact of it still feels remarkably immediate. If you're of that generation and you don't get a buzz from those wailing guitar riffs, those quasi-Gospel singalongs, if that monster modulation that sees out the post-hippie anthem "Hosanna" doesn't get you in the solar plexus, then you were born out of your time.

And that's the first thing to be said about this knock-out revival. It's as if the director Gale Edwards has somehow freeze-dried the piece, kept faith with it, preserved its innocence, its energy, its common touch. The excavation metaphor is a good one. We find it as we left it 25 years ago, a little dusty (the look of it distinctly earth-toned, utility costumes suggesting a kind of biblical hip), but perfectly preserved. Edwards is not a director to get in the way, but my goodness she's on the case, her keen eye and great sense of symmetry and stage ritual demanding your focus. Mary is the first person to take the stage and the last to leave it. As she sings "Could we start again, please?", her answer is cruelly played out in a silent mime showing Jesus mocked and brutalised by Roman soldiers. Bitter irony. Edwards is big on it. The tawdry spectacle of Judas's suicide is literally bound up with Christ's humiliation, the same rope Judas uses to hang himself hauling the battered Christ from the same black hole centre stage. While the idea that Judas speaks for sceptics everywhere turns the title song from a hollow production number into a disturbing vision of Judas berating Jesus on the road to Calvary.

Zubin Varla plays Judas with the raw, neurotic, tortured vocal cast (great role, but almost unsingable) of a rock star going cold turkey. He's dangerous and pitiful. His grotesque deconstruction of "I Don't Know How to Love Him", the single cleverest idea in the score, is poleaxing. The more so as you recall how sweetly Joanna Ampil's touching Mary Magdalene first attended it. And recall plays its part in the excellent Pilate of David Burt, whose haunting entrance number "I Dreamed I Met a Galilean" (cue the dulcet tones of acoustic guitar) so effectively sets up his dilemma later in the show. Caiaphas (Peter Gallagher in a wicked parody of basso profundo) and the high priests descend like birds of prey in this production and Herod's burlesque (Nick Holder and an assortment of asexual acolytes) is for once not merely a camp sideshow.

But out from the midst of this energetic ensemble comes the reluctant superstar himself. And Steve Balsamo really sizes up to him. It's a terrific voice with an unreal extension into searing falsetto. When his moment of truth comes with the show's pivotal number "Gethsemane" (the melodic shape of the very best Lloyd Webber to come) and he's caught in the scrutinising cross-beams of David Hersey's stunning lighting hollering "see how I die", the falsetto turns to primal scream. But it's a good death we see, a humbling death, as truthful as we could ever hope for from a show called Jesus Christ Superstar. Second coming, maybe. But it feels like the first. A blast. From the past. Only better.

Booking: 0171-656 1803

Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood

'Whether he left is almost immaterial'TV
Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May


Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before