Jesus Christ Superstar, the greatest rock opera of all time, opened at The Regent’s Park open air theatre on Aug 14th. All tickets for its six weeks run are sold out. This is a huge triumph for London’s theatre industry as it signals the return of live entertainment to this theatre capital. There are 9 performances a week to make the production economically viable. Giant screens have also been set up on the lawns to project the show for an additional 5000 people. After watching the final dress rehearsal a reviewer for the Chicago Tribune said, “This was about a determination to bring back one of London’s most crucial assets, to prove that this could be done safely, to offer succour and balm and leadership.”
This 90 min special concert staging of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s epic, is created by the team behind the Olivier and Evening Standard Award-winning production, which played two sell-out runs at the Regent’s Park (2016/2017), a season at the Lyric Opera of Chicago (2018), and 60 dates at the Barbican Theatre (2019), before embarking on an ongoing three year North American tour.
The production follows strict social distancing rules. Seats have been reduced from 1256 to 390, that’s 30% of the venue’s full capacity. Every alternate row is kept empty and each group of seats is separated by more than 3 feet on all sides. Neither of the front two rows have been sold, ensuring enough space between actors and audience members. Even the orchestra plays from a specially constructed tent scores of feet away from the stage. An information hub created on the openairtheatre.com website clearly lays out the rules being followed – distanced performers, enhanced cleaning, one-way systems, mandatory face coverings, temperature screening, paperless and cashless systems, disposable glassware and meal boxes and multiple hand sanitiser stations.
Apparently the show was cast in days and rehearsed so quickly that the performers faced an audience without ever running the show once. Because of social distancing protocols it had been impossible to have enough actors in the same room to do that. No actor ever came close to another throughout rehearsal; the stage manager had kept a giant measuring stick to ensure that the British government’s social-distancing guidelines had been maintained. And the director, Tim Sheader, directed the show from behind a plexiglass frame. No sets were built. Instead the producers used a set of their earlier production of Evita.
Reviews so far have been glowing with the Guardian’s headline screaming “A triumphant return for live theatre” and the Telegraph proclaiming “All hail theatre’s Second Coming”. Just reading this makes me feel everything’s alright, yes, everything’s fine.
Tyrone Huntley sings Heaven On Their Minds at the 2017 Olivier awards. Tyrone won the Evening Standard Theatre Award for Emerging Talent when he originated the role of Judas in 2016, a performance which also earned him an Olivier Award nomination for Best Actor in a Musical and WhatsOnStage Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor in a Musical.