THE THRILLING musical Jesus Christ Superstar, which was ground-breaking when it debuted in 1971, was a bold choice for Ventnor Theatre Group.

With lyrics by Tim Rice and music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, the story is of the intense week leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus, and was considered controversial when it first hit the stage, not least because it shines an uncomfortable spotlight on contemporary celebrity culture.

The lure of this modern rock opera was irresistable for musical director Tony Careless. It had been on his wish-list since he first heard it as a teenager, and he was thrilled to lead the orchestra and work in collaboration with director Jeanie Brown again.

Jeanie stepped forward after several years away from the director’s chair, to take on her favourite Lloyd Webber musical. The biggest challenge for any director is to secure a good cast, but Jeanie struck gold with the principals —and this is where the core strength of the production was.

Nathan Meller took on the part of Jesus, a weighty challenge for any actor. His professional background gave him the experience and gravitas needed for this most iconic of roles, and the scene on the cross was breathtakingly dramatic, raised high above the stage.

Playing Judas is arguably even more complex and demanding, but wow, Steve Jones was electrifying. An incredibly versatile actor, for this he drew on his rock star credentials — he fronts a band — and put everything into the character, with incredible fiery passion.

Jesse Rann made everyone sit up and listen when, early into the show, she commanded the stage with her rendition of I Don’t Know How To Love Him, as Mary Magdalene. The control she has over her voice made this difficult song seem an easy one to sing, and it was this moment that changed the entire show for me — and elevated it into something special.

It’s serious stuff, this tale of the Messiah’s portrayal and how he is betrayed by his friend, so thank the Lord — Lloyd Webber — for inserting a bit of fun into the proceedings with a joyous cameo. Enter King Herod, and what an entrance!

Like a celebrity on the red carpet, there was Joe Plumb, commanding the stage, all bare chest and glittery nipple tassels. Yep, you read that right. He was as fabulous as could be.

There were other strong performances, including Peter Stockman as Pontius Pilate, all well-supported by the ensemble, and dancers from Gillian Cartwright School of Dance.

There’s still time to catch the show, at Ventnor Winter Gardens, on May 3, 4 and 5.