Jesus, Moses and The Balsamo Notes

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Jone Moses (centre) in rehearsal for Jesus Christ Superstar at Gloucester Cathedral 25th – 29th March 2014. Photo courtesy of Givvi Flynn for Streamline Design.

Hi all, Ria here!

I’m currently co-directing a large-scale production of Jesus Christ Superstar, which runs from March 25th – 29th, in the glorious location of Gloucester Cathedral. Part of the gig also involves working on the humungous vocal requirements of the show, with leading men Jon Moses (Jesus) and Daniel Haslam (Judas).

Jon was one of the finalists in ITV’s Superstar programme from 2012, in which they went ‘looking for a Jesus’ for the arena tour, which featured Tim Minchin and the programme’s eventual winner, Ben Forster. Jon made it to the final as the underdog who’d caught the eye (ear?) of Andrew Lloyd Webber and his team, with his outstanding baritone voice, big smile and bigger personality. There was no question about the quality of his chest voice, but during the course of the show, a few questions were raised about the strength of his head voice, which needs to be very secure for the role of Jesus.

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Steve Balsamo in jesus Christ Superstar at The Lyceum Theatre 1996 – 1997. Photo copyright, reproduced here with permission.

Having been cast as Jesus in the Gloucester Cathedral production, Jon came to me to start training his head voice – actually to see what could be done to strengthen it in the time available. He was anxious to do justice to what he calls “the Balsamo notes” – referring to VIDLA Patron Steve Balsamo, who famously played the role of Jesus in the West End in the 1996 revival.

And so the training began. 30 minutes into the session, he’d accessed a full, ringing head voice sound. After 2 hours he was sitting on those screaming top G’s like he was born to it. The question was, why had no-one ever shown him how to do it before? It’s just the appliance of science, as the old TV ad used to say. Teachers who understand the mechanics of the voice should be able to help their clients access and secure any register. It’s not about some kind of supernatural or God-given ability, it’s technique. It’s also about the client’s willingness to work, diligently, regularly, and correctly. Mindful practise is something I bang on about quite a lot!

Happily,  The Moses (as he’s widely known among the cast) has a work ethic the size of a building; he’s currently on a big ship somewhere warm, performing as the headline act. He could just enjoy the gig and the sun, but no, not this man. Before he went, he asked me to prepare a bunch of bespoke voice training resources for him, so that he could train every day while he’s away. I was more than happy to – after all, I want both a happy client and a brilliant leading man. I don’t understand the concept of doing anything in life with less than 100% passion and dedication. This is what we try to instil into our student teachers. Be great. Live your life out loud. Mediocrity is unacceptable.

The big issue for me was why, after something along the lines of 11 singing teachers, had no-one ever shown Jon how to access that part of his voice? It’s really not difficult if you understand how voices work, how to build muscle strength and co-ordination, the joys of formant tuning. That seems to be an awfully big “if”, where some singing teachers are concerned. Jon tweeted, directly after that first training session, “If I had been able to sing like that 10 years ago I would have had a completely diff life…. Things happen for a reason…Can’t wait”. But I digress…

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Daniel Haslam in rehearsal for Jesus Christ Superstar in Gloucester Cathedral March 25th – 29th 2013. Photo copyright Givvi Flynn for Streamline Design.

Our other leading man, actor / musician / singer Daniel Haslam, is also a major voice geek and is looking forward to the big Jesus-versus-Judas sing that is part of the magic of “Superstar”. To really make this production work, you need two men with genuinely great vocal chops, who have the kind of on-stage chemistry that can’t be manufactured. (Actually, can you ever manufacture chemistry? I don’t think so). Luckily for me, this is what I’ve got in this cast. The Moses with his warmth, sheer physical presence and rich vocals, The Haslam with his edge, intensity, finesse and laser-beam eyes, are bringing me everything I need as a director. Tick, VG!

Paul O'Neill of The Roving Crows.
Paul O’Neill of The Roving Crows.

I’ve also got the pleasure of working with Roving Crows front man Paul O’Neill , playing Caiaphas.  The Crows have just won the “Band of the Year” FATEA award, and are now up for Best Live Act in the Spiral Earth awards. Go Crows! What a lot of Crows fans don’t know is that Paul is also an actor. He trained at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts (as did such luminaries as Kirk Douglas, Spencer Tracey, Grace Kelly… an endless list!) and brings a new Caiaphas to the stage. For me, it’s not enough simply to do a carbon-copy of what’s gone before, and so with the blessing of Jerry Lane, the show’s producer, we are re-imagining many elements, whilst remaining true to the spirit and nature of the original work. Otherwise it’s just theatrical karaoke, right? Bleurgh.

As a singing teacher and performance coach, I get to work with The Crows on a regular basis, developing their already impressive chops! The band recently supported Jamie Cullum (at his request), and they are well on their way to major recognition. They beat folk-fusion legends Bellowhead into second place for that “Band of the Year” title, which should tell you something about their rising and well-deserved popularity. The band tours constantly, go catch ’em at a venue near you!

188-138 (2)Jerry Lane is a bold, flamboyant, daring producer with huge vision and a very impressive track record both as a producer and as a performer, both here in the UK and abroad. It’s my first time working with him and I have to say when he told me the scale of this production I went a tad pale and had to have a large, fortifying glass of Chablis… A 55-piece orchestra, a 100-piece ensemble, the sheer size and beauty of the performance space (it literally takes your breath away), and then the stunning principal cast, all to be brought together for one huge week of theatre. Just the logistics are challenging, never mind tackling the soaring score, and doing justice to “the greatest story ever told”.

We’d love to see you in Gloucester Cathedral for this huge event. If you’re a fan of Jon Moses, Daniel Haslam, The Roving Crows, fabulous storytelling, epic theatre, this remarkable score, vocal acrobatics, or even Cathedral architecture, you’ll be guaranteed a fantastic night out. Book now. And tell your friends.

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