REVIEW: The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber

The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber
The cast of The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber

Andrew Lloyd Webber, do you think you’re what they say you are? [by James Wenley]

The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber
The cast of The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber

Love him or hate him, there is no denying the massive impact that Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber has had on Musical Theatre over the last 4 decades. After all, the ‘British Invasion’ of Broadway in the 80s was almost single handedly driven by the composer.

The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber is a celebration and retrospective of all of the musical wizard’s key works. What is perhaps surprising is how many of them aren’t as instantly recognisable as the hit tunes of Joseph, Cats, Evita, Jesus Christ Superstar and arguably his master work: The Phantom of the Opera. Indeed, it seems Lloyd Webber had been chasing the illusive mega-success of 1986’s Phantom ever since, his post-Phantom output never reaching the same heights. Tellingly, his recent Phantom sequel Love Never Dies (opening in Melbourne this month) was his most panned yet, though based on the album alone, I’d say that his musical powers haven’t died. Have audiences lost their love affair for Lloyd Webber?

The man whose tunes once swept the world now presides over a series of reality shows to find new West End stars, though he is still possibly one of the few composers who could get away with adding *new* songs into a new production of the timeless Wizard of Oz which opened in London this year.  

Judging by the opening night response to The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber, Auckland audiences love affair with his musicals is very much undimmed.

I count myself a bit of an Andrew Lloyd Webber fanboy, and his musicals have been a big part of my life ever since seeing Rob Guest in The Phantom of the Opera aged 8. I think Madonna is fantastic in the Evita film. I have performed in three separate productions of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat (It was red, yellow, green, brown…). I can’t stand the narrative-less CATS, but I find myself humming along to its main tunes all the same….

Lloyd Webber knows how to craft a tune, and tug on our heart strings. As such, The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber was a magical night that satisfied by inner musical fan and touched the emotions.

The 8-strong Australasian cast are supremely crazy talented, and supremely crazy good looking. They perform with an 8 member live band with moving images and graphics playing on large screens behind them to evoke the ‘feel’ of each musical being paid tribute.

The concert takes a few songs from each musical, layering them throughout the night. Sometimes the songs are all grouped together by show (Evita, CATS and Phantom in particular get extended plays) or by theme (a love duet mixing ‘Unexpected Song’ from Song and Dance, and ‘I don’t know how to love him’ from Jesus Christ Superstar was music to my ears, and I would have welcomed more mashes like this). The song choices are occasionally surprising – the Starlight Express (Lloyd Webber’s populist roller-skate smash) section includes ‘One Rock ‘N’ Roll too many’ but excludes the title tune!

Kiwi Delia Hannah, making an all too rare appearance on the stage (she last appeared in Auckland for Silo’s Threepenny Opera) is given the musical theatre diva songs ‘Don’t cry for me Argentina’ (Evita), ‘Memory’ (Cats), ‘Tell me on a Sunday’ (Tell me on a Sunday) and ‘With One look’ (Sunset Boulevard) and her heartfelt and soaring deliveries are moving.

Michael Cormick, with slick silver hair, is incredibly versatile. He plays both the swaggering Rum Tug Tugger from CATS, Che from Evita, a hardrocking train in Starlight Express, but saves the best till last as the star making Phantom. His sensitive and arresting interpretation of ‘Music of the Night’ is one of the best I have ever heard, and was the true spine-tingly moment of the night for me.

The rest of the cast are young and energetic, and have a great time on the stage. Trisha Crowe is the perfect Christine, and Michael Ball look-a-like Andrew Conaghan is a great Raoul. Shaun Rennie’s Judas doesn’t quite rock out enough in ‘Heaven on their minds’ at the opening of Act II, but completely sells it at the end with the title song from Jesus Christ Superstar.

The beauty of the concert means the actors don’t always have to look the part – Blake Bowden doesn’t quite have a Phantom edge, but when given the difficult song of ‘Til I hear you sing’ from the Phantom sequel, his rich voice shines and makes me very eager to see that show live. Kristen Hobbs does solid work (and a nice ‘Whistle down the wind’), and the gorgeous Alinta Chidzey wins my heart, impressing early with ‘Take that look off your face’ (Tell me on a Sunday).

The screens behind the actors were not always successful, and sometimes gave the actors a fuzzy and pixilated outline. The images were often beautiful, though I found it a bit of a cop out to have much of the Phantom of the Opera section sung with scenes from the movie playing behind them. The single most effective moment of the show was when the screens went dark, and Cormick was left to sing ‘The Music of the Night’ with no multi-media distractions.

The second act slows down with a greater number of songs from Lloyd Webber shows that never quite made it to New Zealand (The Woman in White, Tell me on a Sunday, Whistle Down the Wind, Sunset Boulevard). Lloyd Webber’s ‘Pie Jesu’ (Requiem), which is anything but a musical tune, is a nice diversion. To the delight of the ladies in the audience, the Boyzone version of ‘No Matter What’ (originally from Whistle Down the Wind) is given a cheeky going through by Blake Bowden, Shaun Rennie and Andrew Conaghan.

Curiously, though it appears on the billboard of Lloyd Webber shows, nothing from The Beautiful Game seems to feature, nor is there any mention at all of lesser known work By Jeeves! And with only one song from perennial favourite Joseph featured at the curtain call, that show could have benefited from more attention.

‘Love changes everything’ from Aspects of Love is weaved throughout the show, and becomes the unifying theme. The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber was a show filled with love for the composer, his music, show business, and the joy of life.

The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber plays at The Civic theatre until 8 May. More information at The Edge website.

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