Tag Archives: Andrew Lloyd Webber

“The Phantom of the Opera” at Her Majesty’s Theatre

January sales for theatregoers means getintolondontheatre.co.uk, which offers good discounts for big shows, giving me the chance to catch up with an old favourite. Boasting the third longest run in the West End – there’s a reason it’s been going since 1986 – Andrew Lloyd Webber’s phenomenal hit is still a treat.

Based on the novel by Gaston Leroux, with the story effectively captured by Lloyd Webber and Richard Stilgoe’s book, the love triangle between singer Christine, her ghostly tutor, the Phantom, and eligible bachelor Raoul, with a backdrop of 19th-century Paris, makes for a mix of romance and mystery that’s hard to resist. Any element of horror, due to the Phantom’s crime or his deformity, is so deftly handled it adds to the intrigue without giving the show any age restrictions.

There’s no shortage of hits in a score that grabs the audience, and Stilgoe deserves more praise for his admirable lyrics. Plenty of the numbers have been covered by famous singers but they work well theatrically and are delivered in fine style by a cast keen to show their acting skills as much as their fantastic voices.

The show is really Christine’s, played currently by Kelly Mathieson, who gives the role a feisty edge as her character is “twisted every way” by the demands placed on her. If the camp touches get to her by the end of the show, that’s what capes are for and she works hers expertly. Ben Lewis takes the title role, sounding great and managing to show the “man behind the monster” that drives the show. The Phantom is a charismatic and sympathetic figure, despite his pathology. And Jeremy Taylor is also good, even if we all know that Raoul is too bland to really be with Christine.

While the score has aged and the music isn’t as sophisticated as Lloyd Webber’s later musicals, it is always entertaining. It has to be admitted that there’s a lack of menace, even for a family show, with the Phantom stripped of his mask and mystery too early and gaining a touch too much sympathy when you come to consider what he gets up to. But the humour in the show is still strong, and the easy metatheatricality of staging a musical in an opera house works well. The parody behind the scenes extends into the Phantom’s lair in the sewers – there are plenty of hammy touches, many intentional, and it’s impossible not to love it all.

www.thephantomoftheopera.com

Photo by Johan Persson

“The Woman in White” at the Charing Cross Theatre

If memory serves me correctly, the West End debut of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical, at the Palace Theatre back in 2004, was a grand affair with ambitious, if ineffective, projections and a big orchestra that served a lush score superbly. For its first revival the music has been revised, by Lloyd Webber himself, to suit a smaller setting. As a result, the show joins a string of revivals that remind us how versatile the composer’s work is. This is a piece that impressed first time around but now it is a musical to fall in love with.

The Woman in White is impressively plot driven. It’s based on Wilkie Collins’ 1859 novel, expertly condensed by Charlotte Jones, with its Victorian morality deftly handled to embrace current concerns about equality. This is a great yarn – a romance and a crime mystery that flirts with the supernatural – following the adventures of the Fairlie sisters and the mysterious titular character who has a secret that will change their lives. David Zippel’s lyrics serve the story superbly, even if all that exposition makes them occasionally prosaic. Director Thom Southerland aids the clarity to ensure we are entertained – with a staging full of atmosphere via strong work with the striped back set from designer Morgan Large.

For all Southerland’s accomplishments it is his cast that makes the show stand out – a particularly strong group of singers with exquisite control appropriate to the precision in both the score and the production.

Ashley Stillburn makes an appealing hero, as the Fairlies’ drawing teacher and love interest, who becomes a man of action when danger arrives. His rival in love is Chris Peluso as Sir Percival Glyde – “a liar, a braggart and a philistine” – full of charisma and danger. Glyde’s partner in crime is Count Fosco, played by Greg Castiglioni, who comes dangerously close to stealing scenes as he has the musical’s only light relief (credit where it’s due, for an Italian accent that isn’t just a cheap gag).

The trio of female roles secure more praise. The wealthy heiress Laura might be a little too wet but Anna O’Byrne tackles the role sensibly and gives her as much spirit as possible. Similarly, her half-sister Marian is one of those martyred women, beloved by Victorians, that can annoy – but in the role Carolyn Maitland makes her devotion believable and her sacrifices moving. Finally, Sophie Reeves, who plays the ghostly woman in white, delivers an impressive portrayal of mental illness. The whole cast tackles the satisfyingly complex storyline and its melodrama while singing to perfection, making this a clear five-star show.

Until 10 February 2018

www.charingcrosstheatre.co.uk

Photo by Darren Bell

“School of Rock” at the New London Theatre

Since Matilda’s triumph, anyone putting kids on stage has more than ever to live up to. Even with credentials as impeccable as Andrew Lloyd Webber’s, this film adaptation can’t be called the best thing in the West End. The fact that it is so predictable probably doesn’t matter – many like to see a movie on stage – and with some good songs added, one of which is still buzzing around in my head, this is a crowd-pleasing show.

It’s the story of a wannabe rock star, David Fynn, fraudulently becoming a teacher in a posh school. Too ‘hardcore’ to bother with ‘gold stars’, his attitude endears him to the privileged but ignored pupils and sets him in conflict with their parents. Recognising “soul brothers and sisters” in the children, he takes them to compete in a Battle of the Bands, fulfilling his dreams and engendering new ambitions in them. And there’s your structure. I can’t imagine Julian Fellowes, credited with the book, broke into much of a sweat, unless stubbornly refusing twists or complexity is difficult for him.

Dewey Finn takes the lead and is amiable, busy and charismatic. With the best will in the world, though, you can’t say the role belongs to anyone other than Jack Black who made the film a hit. The other adult roles are disappointingly flat. School of Rock tries too hard to get the kids on side for my taste, and parents get too rough a ride, but pandering to the young audience makes commercial sense and is done well. The children in the cast cannot fail to impress with their talent and energy, creating a palpable excitement. This pedagogical introduction to musical theatre, a well-trodden path for Lloyd Webber, is hard to dislike, but there’s little here for grown ups.

Until 14 January 2018

www.SchoolOfRockTheMusical.co.uk

Photo by Tristram Kenton

“Jesus Christ Superstar” at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

Artistic Director Timothy Sheader scores tops marks yet again for his venue’s annual musical. Sheader has wowed with grown-up and demanding shows before, but in this production of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s concept album/rock opera even the glitter is gritty. This abbreviated Passion of Christ could win converts with its charged staging of ‘The Flagellation’ alone.

Updates to the music are respectful, coming mostly from the vocals. The score feels fresh and the rock guitars aren’t just retained, they are revelled in. More startlingly contemporary is choreographer Drew McOnie’s work and the athleisure clothes from designer Tom Scutt. Jesus and the apostles aren’t hippies but hipsters. It makes sense. Flares, glitter, a glam-Rocky-Horror outfit for Peter Caulfield’s excellent Herod and Judas’ hands dripping in silver paint, show carefully colour-coded scenes. All aided by Lee Curran, whose lighting for the finale is breath taking.

Sheader emphasises community (those ‘Shoreditch’ touches have a point). This is a big cast and it encircles the auditorium before mounting the stage, grabbing microphones and playing around with the stands, cultivating the idea this being a concert. The performative angle provides insight into the piece. And such a commanding use of the ensemble adds emotion as those who followed Jesus quickly turn, to hound him, then demand his death.

JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR by Webber,         , Lyrics - Tim Rice, Music - Andrew Lloyd Webber, Director - Timothy Sheader, Designer - Tom Scutt, Choreography - Drew McOnie, Lighting - Lee Curran, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, London, UK, 2016, Credit - Johan Persson - www.perssonphotography.com /

There are as many superstars on stage as you could pray for. Anoushka Lucas is an excellent Mary, making the most of her show-stopping number. Tryone Huntley (above) is a faultless Judas, with a soaring range and tremendous power. As the lead, Declan Bennett may strike you as lacking charisma – his Christ is introspective – but when power is called for Bennett delivers and his acting is astonishingly focused. Moments when it is difficult to hear what Bennett is singing are an especial pity, given that these are Tim Rice’s best lyrics. It’s testament to the strength of the production that a normally fatal flaw does little to diminish the power of this revelatory show.

Until 27 August 2016

www.openairtheatre.com

Photos by Johan Persson

“Sunset Boulevard” at the English National Opera

Glenn Close’s London stage debut, in a role she won acclaim for on Broadway, comes close to its advertising claim as ‘the theatrical event of the year’. Playing Norma Desmond in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical, Close reminds us how important acting skill is in musical theatre – a great performance isn’t about hitting the right notes as much as revealing character and convincing us of the story the songs are telling. Close serves the show superbly and provides a stirring portrayal of a former silent movie star living as a recluse.

There are campy, crowd-pleasing moments. A first kiss with a toy boy lover is a vampiric embrace, complete with bandaged arms from a suicide attempt, which could hardly avoid being histrionic. The forgotten star is a larger-than-life character and has the quotable lines to prove it. Yet, beyond  Close’s thrilling costumes (designed by Anthony Powell), her detailed portrayal of instability and vulnerability adds a credible tension. This is a sad story about a lonely character, whose delusions are more than a source of humour.

Michael Xavier and Siobhan Dillon
Michael Xavier and Siobhan Dillon

And Close isn’t the only thing recommending this production. The ENO’s orchestra make the score, well, symphonic – revealing a depth to Lloyd Webber’s writing he must be happy with. The sound boosts the ensemble to great heights, and does the same for Siobhan Dillon, who plays Norma’s love rival and sings beautifully. As Norma’s younger lover, Michael Xavier sounds great and brims with charisma. Xavier is clearly thrilled to be working with Close, and who can blame him? Add to this the legion of fans that have taken over the Coliseum, and you have an atmosphere that’s as fantastic as the performances.

Until 7 May 2016

www.eno.org

Photos by Richard Hubert Smith

“Cats” at the London Palladium

As if its original run of 21 years weren’t enough, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical has added on a few extra lives this year at the Palladium. For the newest instalment of the revival, Beverley Knight follows Nicole Scherzinger and Kerry Ellis as Grizabella, providing some star appeal. Knight is a superb performer and feels a little wasted in the role, but she gives a strong interpretation of perennial favourite ‘Memory’ and provides as good a reason as any for checking out the show.

Beverley Knight as Grizabella
Beverley Knight as Grizabella

A lot of people dislike Cats because it doesn’t have a story. Combating this prejudice is futile. T S Eliot’s poems merely provide Lloyd Webber and choreographer Gillian Lynne with a platform for song and dance numbers. Directed by Trevor Nunn, the whole show runs like clockwork and is an entertaining spectacle. The dancing is top notch – it’s hard to believe these guys are the same species as the rest of us (especially Mark John Richardson’s Mr. Mistoffelees). And it’s nice to see care taken to include the audience in the stalls, as the cats prowl amongst the crowd, delighting any kids you take along.

And yet the piece has aged badly. These days we’re used to musicals with a knowing edge and Cats comes close to taking itself seriously, it’s so doggedly humourless. These crazy cats have some hippy ideas about their Jellicle tribe meeting for a moonlight reincarnation ritual, led by the god-like Old Deuteronomy, and it all comes across as just spaced out. The music feels lost in the late 1970s with tinny electronica and rock guitars (as for the updated rap version of Rum Tum Tugger, it seems only polite to gloss over it). While admittedly catchy, the songs are reprised too frequently and the show feels desperate for praise. This is a score that should be rescued and put in front of the fire with a nice saucer of milk.

Until 2 January 2016

www.catsthemusical.com

Photos by Alessandro Pinna and Matt Crockett

“Stephen Ward” at the Aldwych Theatre

Let’s face it, Stephen Ward is a terrible name for a show and, given that its eponymous subject ends shamed and committing suicide, it’s also an unlikely topic for a West End musical. But Andrew Lloyd Webber’s new work deserves the kind words received from critics. An adult affair, looking at the 60s Profumo scandal, the focus is on hypocrisy and injustice – on how revenge was meted out to Ward by the upper classes he once counted as friends.

The show’s credentials are impeccable. Lloyd Webber’s score lives up to his reputation and the book and lyrics are provided by Don Black and Christopher Hampton. This is a complicated story presented in exemplary fashion, with startlingly confident lyrics and efficient directing by Trevor Nunn.

The show rests on the lead and Alexander Hanson is terrific at conveying the complexity of this “man of many parts”. And Charlotte Spencer and Charlotte Blackledge (above with Hanson) depict the more famous stars of the real-life drama, Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice Davies, with depth. Secondary characters also satisfy: Anthony Calf is perfect as Ward’s fair-weather friend Lord Astor and there’s a tremendous turn from Joanna Riding as Profumo’s wife. It’s a lovely twist to see the betrayed minister’s spouse get to have her say.

The show isn’t perfect – rousing emotion has to wait until the end (Hanson again delivers) and this seems too late. Attempts at humour when it comes to both Keeler’s Russian lover and the police who frame Ward on a trumped-up charge are frankly embarrassing.

Stephen Ward has a quiet ambition. A concise, penetrating view of British culture, it scores many a hit. The scene of an upper-class orgy may raise eyebrows amongst Lloyd Webber fans but, sensibly, it doesn’t try to shock. There may be some Coco de Mer style accessories on sale in the foyer (a riding crop and silk blindfold) but humour is used well here. Another highlight is a song for The News of the World journalists, set to twist Keeler’s kiss and tell story, demanding she “give us something juicy”. Keller’s lyrics go further than the hacks are willing to print, but Lloyd Webber and his team don’t shy away from the explicit – even crudity is used intelligently in this smart work.

Until 1 March 2014

Photo by Nobby Clark

Written 23 December 2013 for The London Magazine

“Phantom part two, redux” at the Adelphi Theatre

Opening in March 2010, Love Never Dies, hasn’t had an easy year. Not all reviews were bad (mine was very positive) but many were lukewarm, some slightly spiteful, and the reaction ofphans’ (devotees of Phantom of the Opera) occasionally bizarre.

Just over a year later several alterations have been made and there are some new members of the cast. But ticket sales could still be better. Why is difficult to fathom – Love Never Dies is great stuff; thoroughly entertaining and never, ever boring.

The changes made in Jack O’Brien’s direction make the story of what happens to the Phantom, after he moves from the Opera in Paris to the USA’s Coney Island, a good deal sharper. The clarity in all the performances, especially Hayley Flaherty as Meg and Liz Robertson as her mother Madame Giry, who devotedly follow the phantom and cause his final tragedy, are commendable. David Thaxton brings his considerable acting talent to the role of Raoul – still recognisable as the romantic hero, Raoul is now a broken man.

The Prologue is the biggest alteration. An atmospheric scene setting that teased audiences is replaced with a rousing introduction to the Phantom. Ramin Karimloo, in the title role, gives such a fantastic performance a sense of mystery isn’t missed too much. Throughout Karimloo is such tremendous value he shows he truly owns the role.

Thankfully, few changes have been made to Lloyd Webber’s score. There is some beautiful music in Love Never Dies and it seems a shame so little has been made of this. Glenn Slater’s lyrics often leave much to be desired and what little humour is present tends to fall flat, but what annoys people most – the reinvention of the Phantom as a sympathetic character and the musical’s bleak ending – are more questions of taste than errors of judgement.

Love Never Dies is a complex musical for the West End. The book, written by Lloyd Webber and Ben Elton, demands engagement from an audience and has an eye to its predecessor that is almost oppressive. The resources available mean that the production values are thrilling – they convey the fun of the circus and the frightening freak-shows by turn, but more impressive are the risks taken to produce a darker, relatively more elaborate work that is well worth watching.

www.loveneverdies.com

Written 10 March 2011 for The London Magazine

“The Wizard of Oz” at the London Palladium

With The Wizard of Oz we yet again have proof of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s unerring focus and entrepreneurialism – not only has the maestro produced a terrific live family show, he has even guaranteed it an audience with the aid of a hit TV series, Over the Rainbow.

The new star born is Danielle Hope, whose trials to gain the lead role of Dorothy have so enamoured her to BBC viewers that they now feel duty bound to catch the coach to London and see the show. It makes for a warm atmosphere, as the crowd wills her on to succeed. And Hope manages well – she is an engaging presence with a sweet voice and a remarkable confidence on stage.

It seems damning to say that Hope’s greatest achievement is putting up with Toto. One of the warnings about working with animals should be that a dog on stage can steal the show. And that really isn’t fair. As this poor creature is dragged around, looking by turn bemused and bored, you can’t help fixating on his clever handling and the treats he is cajoled with.

Which is a shame because the treats here aren’t just for Toto but for all the children in the audience. The Wizard of Oz is aimed successfully at youngsters who will, without exception, adore it. A whole team of designers, headed by Robert Jones, have done a superb job, Jon Driscoll’s projections recreating the tornado are impressive, and the costumes are fantastic. Harold Arlen’s great songs are added to by additional music from Lloyd Webber.

Dorothy’s companions on her travels give impressive performances that embrace the show’s camp appeal. Edward Baker-Duly is a matinee-idol tin man, Paul Keating a remarkably acrobatic scarecrow and David Ganly excels as the cowardly lion who is proud to be a friend of Dorothy.

Using a bit more of L Frank Baum’s original story than we are familiar with from the film is a clever move. It treats us to some choreography from Arlene Phillips and gives the talented Hannah Waddingham a chance to shine (via a great lyric from Tim Rice) as the Wicked Witch of the West. The only disappointment is that the additional songs to boost Michael Crawford’s role as Professor Marvel and The Wizard still leave him criminally underused.

Leaving Crawford’s many fans disappointed seems strange, as everyone else in The Wizard of Oz works as hard as Kansas farmhands. Director Jeremy Sams follows the yellow brick road with the precision required for such a spectacle and the determination needed to captivate a young audience. It’s safe to treat any children you know to the thrill of this show. The only thing you might worry about is the effect of all those doggy treats on Toto’s waistline.

Booking Until 17 September 2011

Photo by Keith Pattison

Written 3 March 2011 for The London Magazine

“Aspects of Love” at the Menier Chocolate Factory

Aspects of Love was a bold musical departure for Andrew Lloyd Webber back in 1989. Following the success of Phantom of the Opera, it seems the composer was determined to produce something different – a small, intimate chamber piece with a simple theme and storyline.

Reports of the original production at the Prince of Wales Theatre suggest the musical was somewhat lost in the West End. It faired even less well on Broadway. Now its original director, Trevor Nunn, is back to have another go and, thankfully, at the Menier Chocolate Factory the whole piece comes alive.

As we follow the characters’ lives and loves, through infatuation, betrayal, amity and familial affection, we cannot resist being pulled in. And David Farley’s clever set is the perfect minimal setting in which to develop the drama and embrace events and emotions.

Nunn’s rather indulgent direction takes a slower pace than we might expect. He clearly revels in the musical’s many tête-á-tête scenes. The care taken, combined with the strong cast assembled, pays off.

Katherine Kingsley plays Rose Vibert, and Rosalie Craig is Giulietta Trapani, and both make convincing love interests for the men of the piece. Kingsley has the difficult task of playing an actress who might have fallen for her own press, but she still manages to be appealing. Craig’s magnificent energy results in the most electrifying number of the night, the funeral celebration of both women’s lover, George.

The role of Sir George is played by veteran musical theatre actor Dave Willetts. He gives a vintage performance full of energy and technical knowhow. At the other end of the spectrum, we have a great stage debut in Rebecca Brewer as George and Rose’s daughter, Jenny.

Best of all, and it really is a close call, is the London stage debut of Michael Arden. He assumes the lead role of Alex with such charm that he is in danger of winning us over a little too much. From gangly adoration of Rose, to crazed passion and then a cool melancholic acceptance of her betrayal, his performance is as rich as his mellifluous voice. Just like the wine enjoyed on stage throughout the show, this is a fine performance within a full-boded production that’s a delight to savour.

Until 26 September 2010

www.menierchocolatefactory.com

Photo by Catherine Ashmore

Written 23 July 2010 for The London Magazine