JCS-Excerpts from reviews



(Dnyaneshwar Nadkarni for Economic Times, 16th March, 1974)

Alyque Padamsee's production for the Theatre Group of the sensational Webber-Rice musical, "Jesus Christ Superstar" is not just another masterpiece but a theater experience of a lifetime.

"The production starts with a bang with Mary's song while immortal medieval and renaissance paintings based on Christ are projected in the background. Then we have the stunning entree of Nandu Bhende as Judas. He sings full throatedly into the hand-held mike and strides the ramp gracefully in his flowing robe. Jesus himself, as played by Madhukar Chandra Das is a strong and inspired musico- histrionic portrait, wide in vocal and emotional range and rising superbly to the moving climax of the crucifixion. Purnima Bhende as Mary Magdalene croons with surprising understanding of her role while Conal Almeda lends his memorable base to the role of Caiaphas, dressed appropriately in saffron robes, Gerson da Cunha springs a real surprise singing Pilate with ease and virtuosity, while Keith Stevenson's cameo as a buffoon-like transvestite Herod is the ultimate in hilarity, (Devika Rajbhans plays the Virgin Mary and like sex-kitten Cheryl Rosario, romps through move than one part).

On the whole," Jesus Christ Superstar" is a heady, inebriating experience. The Theatre Group needs to be congratulated on bringing this highly evocative and contemporary masterpiece to the Bombay stage. Rex Lobo (music) Noel Godin (songs) and Coomi Wadia (choir) have handled their work expertly, and the lighting (which makes a decisive contribution to the various sequences) is also equally skilled and imaginative.'


(Leslie De Noronha for The Examiner, 4th May, 1974)

When JCS opened on Broadway about three years ago, it was a Show Biz explosion. An overnight success in New York, then London, satellite productions all over the world, box office bonanzas at every performance, all time records in the disc business. Time magazine cover, and the movie followed. And thousands of rock groups, soon gyrating and belting out Hosanna Heysanna on their electric guitar with all their might, long hair flying and bellbottoms flapping. Simultaneous, I-love-Jesus stickers, buttons and patch-ups, and sweatshirts and jeans featuring the familiar face appeared as teenage cults blossomed on campus and in love-ins alike. The coincidence was sinister. But Jesus Christ never had it so good.

Then Alyque Padamsee got onto the circus, and JCS was due for Bombay. Alyque gave its advent the works. Special auditions for a singing cast of seventy- five; a backstage crew of over fifty assembled Rock and Beat groups were mobilized, the electronic equipment industry boomed. Publicity campaigns even included TV and choirs and musician battled with carpenters during months of rehearsal as special sets were built. At last the show opened, two months ago, with sponsors galore, scrimmages for tickets at Rs. 60, and House Full signs flashing on like traffic lights. The press were not invited, but an enterprising reporter sneaked into a dress rehearsal and got a newscoop. Audience were filled with priests (many in soutanes) and nuns (all fortified by the Vatican's approval of the original production) and with deadly predictability, a controversy raged in these pages. At this point the show had everything except a Pentecostal streak in protest.

Theatre Group's production of Jesus Christ Superstar aptly called 'amazing ' in the press ads had arrived, directed by Ayque Padamsee Supershowman. A title he wells deserves. His production was polished, magnificently orchestrated by three directors, Rex Lobo (music), Noel Godin (song) and Coomie Wadia (choir), splendidly sung by three leads and supports, gloriously performed by a meticulously trained cast of seventy- five, elegantly and elaborately staged with the technological expertise of Deryck Jeffereis, Debu Dutta and a battery of technicians, and dominated by a "star" Nandu Bhende.

JCS is a rock musical based loosely on the Passion of Christ. It is neither a literal enactment of the Passion, nor do the lyrics contain any spiritual evaluations or mystical expressions of Christian faith. As for content, as written and performed (again aptly) by a multi-religion cast for multi-religion audience, it is the essence of the life of Christ: the concept that humanity can be saved by a man who teaches love, and that such a man will inevitable be destroyed by hate. The story follows the New Testament recognizably; the liberties taken could provide an intelligent Catholic with a half- hour's pleasant discussion. Was Magdalene in love with Christ? Did she settle for a platonic friendship? Was Judas motivated by genuine concern for a friend he adored, possibly wanted physically, but who he believed had gone too far in an ideological crusade? Was the betrayal a last resort for Judas who sincerely felt Christ's influence on the people was a danger to the Jewish race's safety? Conversely, the political background to Christ's crucifixion, of a Roman- conquered Jerusalem trying to appease Rome, as implied in this musical, is a biblical fact. As for the book, JCS is what it is. A re-telling of Christ's life as a today - story, a slightly bitter contemporary interpretation of Christ as a humanity -symbol, not as a god - head, and using a pop idiom of lyrics and music that would be universally understood by a plastic-oriented generation. JCS has no pretentions of being a religious play. At best a morality play for the troubled 20th century.

Purely as a musical, JCS is more conventional as it is based on the musical's standard formula. A show that operates on an audio-visual plane with production value blown up to a brassy spectacle; music is paramount, drama reduced to a flimsy theme, dialogue to lyrics, a story line that holds songs and dances together in a melody-pattern, and a "star' who holds the show together by sheer stage presence, charm and personality. No not Jesus, but Judas!! Nandu Bhende was that star, his Judas becoming the pivot of the show. Apart from his powerful singing in the now traditional style of rock, he filled the musical with a vigorous strength and masculinity that gave the production the texture of quality and the character of Judas a positive dimension.

By contrast, or possibly by intent, Madhukar Chandra Das' Christ was subtly negative. Yet, ironically, in a single song, he gave the production a few minutes of true dramatic intensity and the musical a tremendous depth of meaning. This was his Gethsamane song that crystallizes Christ into a man, human, sensitive, vulnerable to pain, fear, doubt, capable of duty, courage, but irrevocably the Son of God who must fulfil his mission of redemption on earth. The way Das sang it, it really got me in the guts and personally, gave me an insight into Jesus Christ's agony that years of Good Friday Services never have.

Noel Godin's Pilate was a cameo. Apart from his rich voice, he acted beyond the demands of a musical, creating Pilate as a compassionate and just man, in a few minutes on stage. There was a perfect duet between Conal Almeida (Caiaphas) and Brian D'Souza (Annas) that had all the nuances of a mini-opera in Gilbert and Sullivan style. And Keith Stevenson's Herod in a song-and - dance parody was a parody that was the quintessence of the savage mockery Christ was exposed to in Herod's Court.

The exquisite staging of the crucifixion sequence, the realistic scourging scene, the stark, haunting stage (only) set, the impeccable lighting that was almost fluid, and the gorgeous singing and music were collectively the signature of Alyque Padamsee's finesse and skill in mounting this production.










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