The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber: review, set list and 2011 tour dates
His greatest successes, financially and artistically, have been the ‘packaged’ theatre shows like Cats and Phantom of the Opera, where the production and design have been inseparable from the composition itself. Remember the dire warnings to the rest of Australia that the Sydney production of Cats would never tour? “Too expensive,” the producers intoned. “If you want to see it, you’ll have to come to Sydney.” There have been at least four national tours.
Cats ran for 21 years in London. Phantom is in its 25th year on the West End and 24th year on Broadway. But can you name anything Lloyd Webber has created since Sunset Boulevard, 18 years ago? (If you’re thinking the Requiem, you’d be wrong. It’s older than Phantom.)
The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber is an odd beast. It’s a teaser for the up-coming premiere and a recapitulation of Lloyd Webber’s hits since Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat went viral in British schools 40-odd years ago.
It also (rather deliberately) puts a case for reconsidering our lowly opinions of Starlight Express, Aspects of Love and Sunset Boulevard. (This, admittedly, is fairly glib case to make when the shows in question only have two good jingles apiece and you can entwine them in an absolutely brilliant two-minute medley.)
Photographs: Jeff Busby (click on images to enlarge)
So, instead of its anthemic and torch-bright title song, Starlight Express is represented by the Grease-inspired ‘One Rock’n’Roll Too Many’ and the gospel-sounding ‘Light at the End of the Tunnel’. Lloyd Webber’s little-toured 1998 musical Whistle Down The Wind is also revealed to have a sacred dimension: ‘The Vaults of Heaven’ is a full-blown (and damn fine) Negro spiritual. (That show is shown the additional courtesy of having its title song performed.)
“The songs are performed for all they’re worth... and, often, quite a bit more than they’re worth.”Aspects of Love’s one hit (some would say its one melody) ‘Love Changes Everything’ -- oft parodied [by me, certainly] as “I sleep with everyone” -- opens the show. Though performed by Delia Hannah and the estimable Michael Cormick, the song is ejected after about sixty seconds in favour of a Cher-like remix of ‘Jellicle Ball’ from Cats, all bombast and brightness. It serves as an overture for what follows. Throughout the show, inspired successes and disastrous failures jostle for attention as equals. It’s like some utopian schools system! You know: you’re all valuable! The songs are performed for all they’re worth... and, often, quite a bit more than they’re worth.
Andrew Conaghan, the leader of the pack. With Hannah & Cormick.
Hannah does the show’s heavy lifting, dramatically speaking. She is such a strong actor, vocally as well as physically, that everything she touches turns to platinum. God, if only we could clone her... Hannah and director Gale Edwards were pretty much responsible for Aspects of Love not disappearing without trace. (Damn them to hell for that!) In a classic example of taking coleslaw to KFC, the Australian production won the composer’s imprimatur and went on to tour the UK in the mid 1990s.
Hannah’s ‘Memory’ is incredibly affecting. Her ‘With One Look’ from Sunset Boulevard is so good, one would wish to have the show revived just so we might see her perform the song in situ. Even the hoary old ‘Tell Me on a Sunday’ has an apotheosis in her palms. ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argentina’, likewise, is perfectly judged.
Vocally, the entire ensemble is equal to the demands of the material: Shaun Rennie’s Judas is thrilling, Alinta Chidzey’s Magdalene is quite perfect, Cormick’s Phantom has immense authority, Trisha Crowe and Kirsten Hobbs in Lloyd Webber’s own flower duet Pie Jesu... All are impressive. Spectacularly good even.
That said, some of the music theatre tricks, the narcissism and mugging, particularly in the opening songs of the first performance, were a bit hard to stomach. But once the individual artists found parts that were a good fit for them, or songs that were just plain easier to sell, cast and audience relaxed.
The set is a tumble of animated billboards. They look good and work well enough, lip sync problems on the pre-recorded Lloyd Webber interview excepted. But, hell, I could have done without the Jesus screen saver... a fantasy sequence which would not have looked out of place in the Led Zeppelin film The Song Remains the Same. (Which, I suppose, makes it the right era for JC Superstar!)
A much shorter and much more disciplined version of this review (with a rather nice pic) was published in yesterday’s Australian.
The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber. Devised and directed by Stuart Maunder. Musical supervision by Guy Noble. Set and costume design and digital media art direction by Julie Lynch. Lighting design by Gavan Swift. Sound design by Michael Waters.
Presented by Lunchbox, David Atkins Enterprises and the Really Useful Company (Asia Pacific). Regent Theatre, Melbourne, March 20. Season ends March 27.
Then Adelaide Entertainment Centre Theatre, March 30 to April 3; Lyric Theatre, QPAC, Brisbane, April 6-10; Burswood Theatre, Perth, April 16-24; The Civic, The Edge, Auckland, May 3-8; St James Theatre, Wellington, May 10-15; Lyric Theatre, Star City, Sydney, May 25-29; and Canberra Theatre Centre, June 1-5; The Lyric Theatre, HKAPA, Hong Kong, June 8-19; Tanghalang Nicanor Abelardo, CCP, Manila, from June 24.
For more news, information and ticketing, click here.
The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber: songs performed
Overture/medley (Aspects of Love, Cats)
1. ‘Take that look off your face’ from Tell Me On A Sunday (Alinta Chidzey)
2. ‘On this night of 1000 stars’ from Evita (Shaun Rennie)
3. ‘And the money kept rolling in’ from Evita (Blake Bowden)
4. ‘High flying, adored’ from Evita (Michael Cormick)
5. ‘Don’t cry for me Argentina’ from Evita (Delia Hannah)
6. ‘One rock ’n’ roll too many’ from Starlight Express (Cormick, Rennie, Bowden)
7. ‘Light at the end of the tunnel’ from Starlight Express (Andrew Conaghan & co)
8. ‘Unexpected Song’ from Song & Dance (Kirsten Hobbs)
9. ‘I don’t know how to love him’ from Superstar (Chidzey)
10. ‘Coney Island Waltz from Love Never Dies (Trisha Crowe)
11. ‘Love Never Dies’ from Love Never Dies (Crowe)
12. ‘’Til I hear you sing’ from Love Never Dies (Bowden)
13. Cats medley (Skimbleshanks, Mungojerrie & Rumpleteazer, Macavity, The Rum Tum Tugger & Mister Mistoffolees. (Rennie, Bowden, Hobbs, Chidzey & Cormick)
14. ‘Memory’ from Cats (Delia Hannah)
1. ‘Heaven on their minds’ from Superstar (Rennie)
2. ‘I believe my heart’ from The Woman in White (Conaghan & Chidzey)
3. ‘Tell me on a Sunday’ from Tell Me On A Sunday (Hannah)
4. ‘Sunset Boulevard’ from Sunset Boulevard (Cormick)
5. Pie Jesu from Requiem (Crowe & Hobbs)
6. ‘No matter what’ from Whistle Down The Wind (Bowden, Rennie, Conaghan)
7. ‘Whistle down the wind’ from Whistle Down The Wind (Hobbs)
8. ‘The vaults of heaven’ from Whistle Down The Wind (Conaghan, Chidzey & Co.)
9. ‘With one look’ from Sunset Boulevard (Hannah)
10. Phantom of the Opera medley (Cormick & Co.)
11. ‘Superstar’ from Superstar (Rennie & Co.)
12. A bit of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat for the road.