Review: Showstoppers' 24 Hour Musical

24 hours to learn and perform a full length musical? Showstoppers accepted the challenge.

Over the last 24 hours members of University of Southampton’s Showstoppers have been learning, rehearsing and finally performing the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Jesus Christ Superstar all in aid of RAG. I can only imagine that it’s been an exhausting yet exhilarating time for them all. I admire them for maintaining such enthusiasm throughout their performances both at 5pm and 8pm. The cast had to learn the musical starting from 3pm on Saturday 9th June and after 24 hours perform it to, what appeared to be, two sell out audiences on Sunday 10th June.

The final scene

The play opened with a number by Judas, played fantastically by Chinonye Iroegbulem. Her vocals were strong and powerful throughout and always full of emotion. Especially in the number ‘Judas’ Death’. Having never seen the musical on stage before I was interested to see how Showstoppers would manage to put together such a high profile musical in just 24 hours. It’s safe to say they definitely pulled it off. The performance was far from line by line perfection with Jesus (played by Sam Otto) ad-libbing almost the whole of the first song. However upon finding this out it was definitely news to me. I didn’t notice anything at all during this number, well, apart from the odd look into his notepad. I felt this demonstrated the professionalism of the cast and their ability to carry on despite getting lines wrong. At times they would slip into giggles but they would be laughing along with everyone in the audience. We knew how much effort had been put in to make this work so we could only sympathise and see the humour in their mistakes and admire them for continuing.

A nice touch came during the interval where some of the cast came and began ‘The Last Supper’ on stage. They sat sipping their wine and waited for the audience to settle back into their seats before starting the second act. The first number of the second act was one of the points in which the mistakes led to roaring laughter from the crowd. As Jesus handed out his bread and made up lyrics on the spot we could only see the funny side. The few dance numbers in the musical were well choreographed by Megan Gibson and showcased the diversity of Showstoppers. The lighting was simple yet effective and worked well within the musical. The obvious thematic links between red lights and Judas emphasised the characterisation. Another element that made the performance visually appealing would be the staging and character positioning. The staging in numbers such as ‘This Jesus Must Die’ made the set exciting and the different levels separating the likes of Caiaphas and Annas from Jesus and his followers aided the characterisation.

In my opinion Chinonye Iroegbulem playing Judas stole the show. Paired with the change from white to red lighting and an electric guitar upon entrances led to such an impressive stage presence. Her vocals were astonishing throughout often sending goosebumps over me. The juxtaposition between Judas and Jesus meant that both characters shone. Jesus’ vocals could be compared to the likes of Jamie Cullum. He had incredible vocal range and often showed this off during each musical number. His timidity yet ability to lead on stage compared to the abrupt, aggressive nature of Judas meant for a very dynamic performance. Another notable performance would be from Sam Jenkins-Shaw who played Pilate. His strong voice and well acted compassion made for another great stage presence. Michaela Bennison was also fantastic as Mary, her timidity and kindness shone through and her soft and gentle vocals made her performance stand out.

Hats off to the directors, producers and cast of the show. It was brilliantly done considering the whole team had only 24 hours to learn, perfect and then perform the show, all for a great cause.