Excitement filled the air inside The Reykjavík City Theatre minutes before the premiere of Jesus Christ Superstar. There is no mystery to the plot in Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s famous rockopera but Vesturport’s take on the classic has made many old fans curious, especially since director Björn Hlynur decided to cast two local rockers in the leading roles. Krummi, best known for fronting the rock monsters Mínus, takes on the role of Jesus and Brain Police’s singer Jenni plays Judas. These are very challenging parts – to sing and act – and the theatre audience very distinct from their usual crowd, something that must be nerve-wrecking for two first time actors.
Björn Hlynur succeeds in presenting something different, although his version does not entirely escape clichés. He moves far away from any hippy or pop-oriented atmosphere of the original and offers the audience leather pants and tattoos, BBQs and stewardesses while Pontius Pilate is dressed in a speedo. I have to say though that some parts left me a bit confused.
To modernise the piece for a generation of rock-enthusiasts, Björn Hlynur got Daði Birgisson and Krummi’s band-mates, Bjössi and Bjarni, to orchestrate the music. That was his best move. The show started with a bang and the band’s dynamical sound blasted loudly for the whole two hours. It was too bad the five-piece was hidden in a pit infront of the stage. When things got a bit dull onstage it would have been nice to watch the action beneath.
Jenni delivered his part as Judas well. His singing was powerful and his raw sound a good contrast to Krummi’s softer voice. He was angry yet emotional and convincing as the confused betrayer, which suited this hard-rock version perfectly. Krummi’s vocal delivery was surprising and showed a totally new side of him as a singer. He is usually the rough guy but here he easily hit the high notes and sang the slower ballads just fine. Between songs though, it felt as he didn’t really know what he was supposed to do, and lacked the skills to deliver the feeling of sympathy in dramatic scenes.
I was impressed with Lára Sveinsdóttir who sang her role as Mary Magdalene beautifully. Ingvar E. Sigurðsson stood out as Pontius Pilate and proved that he is not only a terrific actor but a great singer. Magnús Jónsson as Caiaphas and Bergur Þór Ingólfsson as the obese King Herod (who received a well-deserved applause and laughter), also deserve compliments.
That being sad, what the production lacked in acting skills it made up for in volume. It was rather the powerful singing and heavy instrumentals that carried the show from start to finish and made it entertaining to watch. The music was full of attitude and smart details and the arrangements both interesting and aggressive. This version of the classic opera is pure rock, just as intended.
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