THEATRE
Twenty-five years ago, when Jesus Christ Superstar opened in New York, the person who was most horrified by what he saw was its 23- year- old composer, Andrew Lloyd Webber. It was, he says, "a mountain of kitsch". When Lloyd Webber discussed the new Jesus Christ Superstar with director Gale Edwards and designer John Napier, he naturally didn't advise them to go back to the original for inspiration. He pointed them instead to Holbein's Dead Christ in the Tomb.

Taking her cue from this improbable source, Edwards' Superstar, at the newly reopened Lyceum, travels in exactly the opposite direction to Steven Pimlott's over-the-top revival of Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. In these inflationary times one had half expected the Really Useful Group to come up with Jesus Christ Megastar. But no, Edwards reverses the blockbuster trend with something very Nineties: Jesus Christ, Genuine Guy.

Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice were fortunate in choosing the most famous story ever told. For though Rice's lyrics - flip, witty and accessible - are usually, and unfairly, underrated, you can't ignore the fact that this show is essentially a rock album with costumes. It moves with an exhilarating speed from one big tune to the next, without getting snarled up with the intricacies of dialogue. Edwards quite rightly doesn't disguise its origins. Instead of big scene changes, there are plenty of dustily evocative crowd scenes, figures scampering up ladders on John Napier's Coliseum-style amphitheatre set (with a central mound providing the focus for solos) as Jesus greets and blesses the masses. And whenever possible, Edwards heads back to the top of the mound for a number.

This production shifts the emphasis away from Judas Iscariot, here receiving a harsh, distancing performance from Zubin Varla, towards Jesus, the seemingly gentle, hippy-ish Steve Balsamo. Balsamo is superb: he delivers "Gethsemane" with a thrilling go-for-broke conviction. His voice leaps up to a spine-tingling falsetto, which he spins out and out, as he extends his arms wide and collapses to the ground, caught in the crossfire of David Hersey's spotlights. He is well supported by Joanna Ampil - a former Kim from Miss Saigon - who brings a touching earnestness to Mary Magdalene. As the stocky, frustrated Pilate, David Burt throws everything at us, and then some. And Nick Holder, as the bald, glinting Herod, swivels on a gold chair and mocks Jesus with flamboyant malevolence.

But despite the cast's best efforts, Superstar's origins as a rock album make the show more stirring than moving. When the chorus sing "Hosanna" you want to join in. When Jesus picks up his cross, and the big chords of the title anthem thunder out, you want to leap to your feet. You wouldn't imagine, with this storyline, that entertainment could be so uncomplicated.

After his fascinating seven-and-a-half-hour epic The Seven Streams of the River Ota, which played at the National recently, the Quebecois director Robert Lepage returns to Britain for a tour of his one-man show Elsinore, adapted from Hamlet. This highly technical production was famously cancelled at this year's Edinburgh Festival, when a single rivet failed to work.

In Elsinore, Lepage plays Hamlet, Claudius, Gertrude, Laertes, Polonius, Ophelia and sundry others; but these impersonations, luckily, are not the main attraction. Elsinore is a series of sketches or studies on a theme. Lepage makes bold inversions: when Hamlet goes to his mother's bedchamber and Polonius stands behind the arras, we stand behind the arras with Lepage-as-Polonius and only hear the voices of Gertrude and Hamlet. Lepage adds scenes only alluded to by Shakespeare, opening out the story like a film director. For instance, when Hamlet sails to England, we watch (rather cutely) a projection on the front curtain of a ship moving between Denmark and England. Next, Lepage-as-Hamlet is on board the ship altering the letter which sends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to their death. We also witness scenes from several angles. In the final duel Lepage utilises a screen, another actor as a double, and a video camera with the lens looking down the line of the blade so that Lepage-as-Hamlet can fight with Lepage- as-Laertes.

This deployment of slides, surtitles, back projections, sound effects, voice machines, panels, and rotating furniture creates a kind of highbrow circus. But as we watch panels move in and out of place, or listen to another voice filtered through another echo machine, the thrill of all this new technology palls. It's brilliant, ingenious - and slightly dull. Parts of the one hour and 45 minutes are inevitably much better than the whole, and it feels like work in progress. His Hamlet, you can be sure, is yet to come.

And that's a worry. Lepage is not very good at speaking Shakespeare. He can sound like Peter Sellers with a head cold ("boffitid" for "buffeted", "innerunt" for "ignorant"). It adds an unintentional layer of irony when Lepage-as-Hamlet gives advice to the players on how to speak verse - not least because Lepage the director doesn't seem that interested in language. Elsinore makes a spectacular introduction to state-of-the-art theatre wizardry. It just seems odd to involve Shakespeare.

A new play, Old Wicked Songs, by a youngish American playwright, Jon Marans, opened in Shaftesbury Avenue this week, largely thanks to the welcome presence of Bob Hoskins. This two-hander, which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, charts the testy relationship between an impoverished, suicidal Viennese singing teacher (Hoskins) and an arrogant young American pianist, Stephen Hoffman (James Callis), who has somehow lost his prodigious gift.

Before Callis's character can find his way back to playing the piano, he has to take a course in singing: in particular, Schumann's song cycle, Dichterliebe. This premise - singing teacher helps brilliant pianist to sneak round the back of a creative block - is intriguing enough. But Marans' gently humorous and emotional play takes on far more than simply the complex relationship between talent and personality.

Hoskins tells Callis that great music comes from the combination of suffering and joy. Later Callis visits the concentration camp at Dachau. The experience forces him to admit his own Jewishness. He starts wearing his yarmulka. (It's 1986, and Kurt Waldheim is standing for re-election.) Then Hoskins says he was a Holocaust survivor. Suddenly there are so many themes and issues knocking around this palatial studio that Marans can only deal with them in the most cursory way.

Hoskins gives an attractive performance: cupping his hands round his cheeks, twisting his head enquiringly (as he does in the BT ad) and jiggling his rimless glasses. But he seems underpowered early on, as if hemmed in by the Viennese accent. Callis makes a remarkable debut: with his slicked- back hair and the top button of his jacket done up, he manages to be both emotionally inhibited and flirtatious. Elijah Moshinksy's stately direction unfortunately increases the feeling this play gives of complexities glided over: like a symphony having been rearranged for the piano.

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