Rhydian talks about Jesus Christ Superstar

Rhydian Roberts as Pontius Pilate and Glenn Carter as Jesus. Pic: Comp
Rhydian Roberts as Pontius Pilate and Glenn Carter as Jesus. Pic: Comp
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HE found fame on X Factor, his shock of white hair making him instantly recognisable as his rich baritone voice won him legions of fans.

That was in 2007; since then Rhydian Roberts has proved to possess the Midas touch when it comes to choosing musical theatre roles.

Later this month, the 32-year-old returns to the Playhouse, where he last appeared as Rocky in The Rocky Horror Show, two years ago.

This time around, he plays Pontious Pilate in Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Broadway hit Jesus Christ Superstar, loosely based on Gospel accounts of the last week of Jesus’ life.

“It really is a pleasure to be a part of this show. I like being a part of hit shows,” the Welshman smiles.

“It’s how I’ve planned my career so far. I’ve done Rocky Horror, which was a hit; We Will Rock You; Grease, which was a huge hit; and I did The War of the Worlds, slightly different but still hugely popular.

“I’d rather do that at this stage in my career than take on unknown shows. I like entertaining big audiences.”

Now a double-platinum recording artist, the singer has certainly proved popular since making his TV debut and he’s delighted to report that Jesus Christ Superstar appears to be continuing that popularity.

“Pilate is a great role to play. He seems quite evil because he condemns Jesus to death, but he didn’t really want to. He didn’t think he deserved it. So he’s not really the ultimate bad guy, just a coward.

“The orchestration of his songs is really thrilling and they are perfectly placed in the show, just before the crucifixion.”

It was the soundtrack that first attracted Roberts, a self-confessed musicals fan, to the piece.

“I’m passionate about musical theatre and I think this is Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s best score. It’s amazing to think that they wrote it when they were just 19 and 20.

“If I am going to see a block-buster musical, I want it to have a good soundtrack and there is no denying that this, from the overture with the 70s-style rock guitar, is phenomenal.

“You’d think it would be a bit dated now, but actually it still works because of the hippy context in which it was written.

“Another good thing about the show is that the males have the best music. I know Mary has I Don’t Know How To Love Him, but generally in musicals, the girls have all the best songs.

“Jesus Christ Superstar, with all the apostles, is very male heavy, so it’s a good one for a guy to be in.”

Even 44 years after its premiere, however, a musical entertainment about the life of Jesus is still controversial for some, as Roberts discovered when the production toured Ireland.

“There were protesters who claimed they were believers, but I don’t understand why they would protest against something that is lifting up Jesus’ name.

“The piece is a fairly accurate depiction of the actual Gospel of the last seven days of Jesus’ life, more or less. So they should be celebrating the fact that Lloyd Webber wrote a show about him.”

For others, the production is an emotional experience, reveals Roberts, “Especially when Jesus is on the cross. That scene lasts about 14 minutes and Glenn Carter plays it really well.

“It obviously touches people, and even if they aren’t religious they still feel for the character, the injustice and for his fate.”

In 2012 a concert version of Jesus Christ Superstar toured arenas across the country. Roberts is pleased the stage musical is very different.

“For the arena tour they contextualised everything and made it contemporary. I prefer shows with the period costumes. The set for this production is brilliant and the lighting sensational.

“Bill Kenwright produced and directed it himself. He knows Lloyd-Webber and spoke to Tim Rice, who said, ‘I’m really glad you’re doing it like this because this is how I intended it to be seen, in a more intimate space’.”

Laughing, he adds, “It just so happens the Playhouse is bigger than most, but even 3000 seats is better than an arena.”

Jesus Christ Superstar, The Playhouse, Greenside Place, 7-11 April, £15-£48.90, 0844-871 3014