Tag Archives: andrew lloyd webber

Aspects of Love (Southwark Playhouse)

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s chamber piece is often overlooked alongside big hitters like Cats, Phantom of the Opera, and Evita, but it does include one of his finest scores, and so it is a pleasure to watch a new adaptation of this complex musical of love, direct from the Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester.

The majority of the cast have travelled south with this show, with the exception of Madelena Alberto, who joins as Giulietta, and Eleanor Jackson, who fulfils a number of peripheral roles throughout.

Felix Mosse and Kelly Price. Photo by Pamela Raith.
Felix Mosse and Kelly Price. Photo by Pamela Raith.

Alex (Felix Mosse), 17, sends flowers to the older actress Rose (Kelly Price), who is managed by the caring Marcel (Minal Patel). She goes away with Alex to a villa which turns out to be his uncle George’s (Jerome Pradon), who himself has a mistress in Venice (Alberto). George sees Rose in a dress his dead wife once wore and she leaves Alex for him.

She moves in, and Alex returns in a couple of years to find her installed as “Madame” at the villa. They get involved again, and George thinks Alex is best for her; she has other ideas. George goes broke, and Rose proposes. Giulietta is “best man”, and after a lingering kiss, it is implied the three live together in a menage a trois. Rose gives birth to a daughter, Jenny (Eleanor Walsh).

Then in Act Two, we have fast-forwarded a number of years, with Jenny on the brink of womanhood, Rose acting in films and having a lover, Hugo (Jason Kajdi), and George rapidly ageing. When Alex returns he finds himself attracted to Jenny, but Rose is also toying with him, and it can only end in disaster.

Finally, we go full circle to the funeral procession and wake which begins this show, marking the death of George, and Alex and Giulietta go off together, leaving Rose alone and desperate, and Jenny bereft.

Jerome Pradon and Madalena Alberto. Photo by Pamela Raith.
Jerome Pradon and Madalena Alberto. Photo by Pamela Raith.

The story, of course, is preposterous and as an advert for polygamy or polyamory, keeps things firmly in the family. The score is delicious, and beautifully performed, especially by Price, who completely nails the big number for Rose, “Anything But Lonely”, and Alberto, who shows her range in “There is More to Love” and “Hand Me The Wine and The Dice”.

Pradon convinces as the old lothario who parties with his women and then becomes frustrated with his own mortality, and his delivery of George’s big songs, “Other Pleasures” and “The First Man You Remember” (George sees his daughter in that dress and seems to slip into the past) is nicely judged, if a little forceful in places.

As Alex, Mosse acts well both as the petulant child-man and the embarrassed recipient of his young cousin’s affections, but he is the most selfish character on the page; showing no real redemption. It seems clear in his exchange with Guilietta that he will return to claim Jenny and cause more upset in due course. He’s perhaps not unlike his uncle in that, living for today, and damn us all.

Detail from the programme and poster for Aspects of Love

Walsh’s Jenny is a force of nature as a childish teenager, and a confused young woman: a role which is hard to get right. It’s a pity she has one of the worst vocal lines (“I saw what you were doing with your new Italian friend”). I’m not sure whether the line “No one said that Romeo was a monster” has gone, but if it has, I miss it just as much as the original setting for “She’d Be Far Better Off With You”, which has now become a quartet for George, Alex, Rose, and their maid (but retains the great lyric, “You’ve dined with Garbo … translated La Bo/heme”).

The set and staging is cleverly done for a small space, with lighting cues, dancing stage resets, and musical moments to evoke a change of scene and time. “Falling”, in particular, the quartet in which Rose, George, Alex and Jenny lament their emotional states, works well in the simplicity of a couple on each side of the stage, seated at the audience tables.

Those tables, incidentally, may cause problems for those of you in row B looking directly front of the stage, and be aware there are times where your view of the action will be restricted. Perhaps a lesson to be learnt in the future for the venue, although the idea of audience members getting a closer view of the action is to be applauded.

I have so many questions about a show I know so well (having seen several productions over the years):

  1. If George is Alex’s guardian, where has Alex been getting his income from and where has he been living?
  2. Why doesn’t George marry Guilietta?
  3. Why does Rose agree so quickly to go with Alex? The villa?
  4. Does Rose really love George?
  5. Does the telegram from Marcel which shortens Alex and Rose’s fortnight really come from George?
  6. If Alex suspects Rose has gone to George, why is he so surprised to see her as Madame of the house two years later?
  7. Why does George agree to marry Rose if he is broke and she has no money other than from her career?
  8. Why was Rose so quick to sleep with Alex again if she is so happy?
  9. If Rose needs to work to bring in money when does she stop to have a baby?
  10. When Alex visits Rose at the theatre in Act Two he hasn’t seen her for twelve years, but Jenny is thirteen?
  11. If George hasn’t kept track of Alex, how does Alex know about Jenny?
  12. Where has Alex been serving in the Army?
  13. If Alex stays chez George for two years, how come he never meets Guilietta?
  14. If the age of consent is 15 in France, why is everyone so protective about Jenny?
  15. Could Alex be Jenny’s father?
  16. Does George have a sexual obsession with his own daughter?
  17. Why has Rose taken up with Hugo?
  18. Why did Rose never get involved with Marcel?
  19. Why doesn’t Alex just leave if he wants to control his urges?
  20. Why doesn’t George ask him to leave if he is so worried?
  21. Once George has died, why don’t Rose and Guilietta set up home together?
  22. Why is Guilietta’s love life so complicated?
  23. Why does Alex push Rose away at the end of “Anything But Lonely”?
  24. Why does Alex end up with Guilietta?
  25. Will Alex go back for Jenny?

Nothing in the show resolves any of this, but despite the plot holes and clear confusion, this remains an excellent musical which deserves reappraisal. Welcome back, Aspects. Don’t stay away so long again.

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Sunset Boulevard (ENO Coliseum)

sunsetprog

The posters proclaim ‘The theatrical event of 2016’ and indeed, bringing Glenn Close across for her London stage debut more than twenty years after she played the role of Norma Desmond on Broadway is quite a coup.

This is one of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s best scores, based on the superb Billy Wilder film which starred Gloria Swanson as Norma and William Holden as Joe, narrating the film opener as a corpse face down in a swimming pool.  This production takes its own opener from that, with a dummy which is highlighted in what is usually the orchestra pit in cool blue light, and then hoisted to hang prone above proceedings for the whole show.

joesunset

Joe Gillis (Michael Xavier) is a studio hack, a writer who hasn’t had that much success but who knows a lot of young and hungry performers and creatives who litter Tinseltown, waiting for their big breaks.  Early on his script pitch is knocked back by Betty Shaffer (Siobhan Dillon), a twenty-two year old idealist who grew up on studio lots, and so it is that trying to escape from loan sharks, he drives his car into the vast palazzo of fading star Norma Desmond, Cecil B De Mille’s ‘young fellow’ (the name De Mille in fact gave Swanson in their days of collaboration).

Glenn Close’s Norma starts as big as she is, the star who may not always hit the notes but can certainly put across the key numbers, and her ‘With One Look’ rightly gets the first huge audience response of the night.  Later, when we know Norma better, and when we have seen how she has manipulated Joe into enjoying both her and her life of luxury, she is both luminous and delicate in ‘As If We Never Said Goodbye’, on the Paramount lot where the gateman and the lighting tech remember her, but the studio runner estimates she ‘is about a hundred years old’.

Xavier may be a little too chiseled, and although his Speedo appearance in Act 2 gives a bit of comedy, it is out of place for the period.  I enjoyed his singing, but the gold standard for this part, for me, remains John Barrowman who was close to perfect in his fatalistic attitude to the only way he can survive in the fake world of Hollywood.  Norma Desmond exists in a false sense of reality, kept there by her devoted servant (and ex-husband) Max (Fred Johanson, who I saw years ago when he played Judas in ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’).

Max’s solo song of obsession, ‘The Greatest Star of All’, is a big ask for any singer, with its large range and soaring line endings, and if Johanson didn’t quite nail the ‘fade’ line, it didn’t matter.  His acting, always in the background, observing, and, in this production, perhaps calling up the ghost of Young Norma from the past (she appears, touchingly, when Norma’s ‘Joan of Arc’ film is screened, and at the New Year’s Eve ball).  For him, his job is to keep the young girl he once knew alive, and happy.

Semi-staged as this production is, the orchestra (the ENO’s own) are centre stage, with metal staircases and walkways which double as different locations as we progress through the tale.  There’s a sofa for Norma to lounge on, a car for Max to drive on to the lot, and a bar for the bright young things to celebrate life in.   There’s also the love story which blossoms between Joe and Betty (they have their big duet ‘Too Much In Love To Care’, but they are within the cardboard lot and frontages, and we know that Norma is unbalanced, tragic, and jealous, and that their young love is doomed.

Joe said it himself in the title number which opens Act 2: “You think I’ve sold out?  Dead right I’ve sold out”.  And so, like half-forgotten director William Desmond Taylor, he winds up shot in the back and in a watery tomb, while a distraught Norma gets ready for her close-up and her devoted Max calls the invisible cameras to ‘action’ one last time.

Is this production worth your time?  Absolutely yes.  This musical demands a ‘Star’ and La Close is very much it.  But there are many other pleasures to enjoy as well in this excellent revival.


Sunset Boulevard (Geoids Musical Theatre at the Bridewell Theatre)

sunset

Amateur theatre can sometimes be hit and miss, but recently it seems that there is work going on in this sector that is close to professional standard in places.  So it is with this version of the Andrew Lloyd Webber/Don Black musical, the first amateur production of ‘Sunset Boulevard’ to be staged, and with the announcement of the ENO version coming next Spring, one may view this version as an appetizer.

My husband attended with me, and he is not familiar with the show at all.  I am, both film and show are firm favourites of mine, and so we were both coming to this show with different expectations.  What struck me first was the rather odd idea of having every sequence performed as if it was a shot within a film, with cameramen, clapperboards, cuts and steps out of character.  As this is based on an iconic film, it didn’t bother me, but it was really just a way to distract the audience from stage and set changes.

As Norma Desmond, Susan Booth was terrific, especially in her second act solo ‘As If We Never Said Goodbye’ which gave me goosebumps.  She was touching in her madness and her vulnerability, too.  Patrick Harrison, as Max, was note perfect as an actor, if not quite as a singer (but his solo number is a notoriously difficult song to put across, and his interpretation was valid enough), and his loving guardianship of the woman he still saw as his teenage wife, the ‘greatest star of all’ was well-defined.

Michael Stacey’s Joe was just the right mix of self-absorption and opportunitism, and his voice was fine in both his solo number ‘Sunset Boulevard’ and in his desperate duet with Betty, ‘Too Much in Love to Care’.  Betty was played by the sparkling Nikki Davison, as an ingenue who would be spat out by the Hollywood system she didn’t quite understand.  The company, too, threw themselves into the ensemble pieces with their heart and soul, whether welcoming a New Year, offering beauty treatments or new suits to the principals, or setting the scene for a dog-eat-dog movie wonderland which had seedy edges of disappointment.

The set and staging, too, was effective, from the glow of Norma’s swimming pool in the opening scene, the iconic staircase from which she descends for her ‘close-up’, the rolled-out tiles on which Valentino once tangoed, to the car in which Joe drove from his debtors through dark and dreary streets in a filmed backdrop.

Sarah Burrell’s orchestra also deserve a nod, although at times they overpowered the singers, especially in ensemble pieces.  Overall, though, this was an excellent version of one of my favourite shows, which made me laugh, moved me, and kept me watching.  My husband also liked the show despite knowing nothing of the plot, so I would also give it a nod for newbies unfamiliar with the source material.

Last performance is on tonight.


Cats (London Palladium)

It’s been twenty-five years since I last saw this show live, at the Winter Gardens in Blackpool in 1988 or 1989, and I have very strong and happy memories of the musical.  I also have a soft spot for both the Original London Cast Recording and the film version which appeared in the late 1990s.

Some tweaks have been made to make the show more up-to-date – a new tap sequence for Jenny-Any-Dots’ beetle tattoo is fun, but the switch of Rum Tum Tugger from sexy Tom to annoying bling-laden rapper is a mis-step.

‘Cats’ is largely about the dancing, and it doesn’t really need star names to keep it going – there are some amazing young performers showcased here in the various solos (although with five or six understudies on this afternoon I can’t say for sure who was playing Jemima (I think Alice Jane), Rumpleteazer, Old Deuteronomy, Skimbleshanks (Dane Quixall?), Bombalurina (Cassie Clare) and others – if anyone knows for sure or needs to correct assumptions here please do).  I do want to give a nod to Paul F Monaghan who works hard as both Bustopher Jones and a very enjoyable Gus/Growltiger, Callum Train as Munkustrap and Joseph Poulton who is a dazzling Mr Mistoffelees.

The pre-opening buzz has all been about the Pussycat Dolls singer Nicole Scherzinger, who plays the supporting role of Grizabella, and who has the ‘big number’, Memory.  Although she can certainly hit that big note, I felt her voice was lacking in body in the rest of her role, and frankly, her vocal style doesn’t do it for me.  I’ve been brought to tears before by this cat and her song, but not here.

The rubbish dump set might not revolve as it did in the old days, but the cats climb, stretch and emote as they ever did, and the ensemble singing in the numbers ‘Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats’, ‘Old Deuteronomy’ and ‘The Ad-dressing of Cats’ is excellent.  The special effects might not look as spectacular as those in other shows – yes, Wicked, I am looking at you – but the hydraulics, trapeze work and lightning effects are fun.

I would recommend this show to new and old fans alike, and those of you who have feline friends at home will find yourself smiling in recognition at the antics portrayed within this show.


Classic cinema review: Jesus Christ Superstar (1973)

In 1970 a concept album appeared containing a rock opera based on the final days of the life of Jesus Christ, written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice.  It was their second musical together following the production for schools of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.  Cast as Jesus was Deep Purple’s vocalist, Ian Gillan, with actor/singer Murray Head portraying Judas Iscariot.

It came to Broadway as a fully-fledged stage show in 1971, with Jeff Fenholt as Jesus and Ben Vereen as Judas, with a British production following in 1972 featuring Paul Nicholas as Jesus and Stephen Tate as Judas.  The interesting thing about the Broadway production was that the actors who eventually took the lead roles in the film version were understudies for the roles of Jesus and Judas (Ted Neeley, and Carl Anderson, who eventually took over the role of Judas when Ben Vereen fell ill).

Fast forward a year to 1973, and the film version.  The stage show had led to many protests from religious groups who felt that the treatment of Jesus as a ‘superstar’ was offensive – however, in following the story of Christ from the Bible through key scenes like the Temple, the beggars, and of course, trial and Crucifixion, the story was fairly reverent, using contemporary rock rhythms to put its message across.  It was more earthy and less of its time than Godspell, which was filmed around the same time, and which covered a wider story of Jesus choosing his disciples and eventually dying on the Cross.

The film version of Jesus Christ Superstar was directed by Norman Jewison, and retained some players from both the original concept album (Yvonne Elliman as Mary Magdelene) and Broadway (Barry Dennen as Pontius Pilate, Carl Anderson as Judas, Bob Bingham as Caiaphas).   For me, Ted Neeley is perhaps the greatest of all singers to have taken on the part – and his delicate looks and picture-perfect depiction of Jesus as seen in those Bible prints fit perfectly with the man who has ‘heaven on his mind’, according to Judas.  Anderson is also amazing in the role of Judas – and both men continued to portray the roles on stage for many years afterwards.

Filmed in Israel and other Middle Eastern locations, the film is atmospheric and offers much to believers and non-believers alike.  Perhaps it makes Judas a little too sympathetic (but it shows him as human being with a conscience, rather than a cardboard villain), and portrays Jesus as a misguided man with doubts (in his soliloquy song, Gethsemane, he asks God ‘why then am I scared to finish / what I started / what you started / I didn’t start it’), but that is all to its strength.

The music remains exceptional after all these years, although some of the period lyrics (‘what’s the buzz’, ‘cool it man’) sound rather anachronistic in the 21st century.  Elliman is touching as Mary in her big number (‘I Don’t Know How To Love Him’) and if her song with Peter (‘Could We Start Again, Please?) is a bit like a Coca-Cola advert, that is perhaps the only blip in an otherwise fine film.  Peter, by the way, is played by one Philip Toubas, who under the name of Paul Thomas followed quite a different career path as a successful porn actor and director.

Is Jesus Christ Superstar worth your time now?  Absolutely.  It opens out the stage production (which is powerful enough in its own right) and stands up as one of the last hurrahs of 1970s musical cinema.  Jewison, who had already brought Fiddler on the Roof to the screen, is a good choice for director, and the film benefits from Melvyn Bragg being involved on the screenplay, and Andre Previn on the musical scoring.

A further version was filmed for television in 2000 featuring Glenn Carter as Jesus and Jerome Pradon as Judas, which was closer to the stage production.

 

 


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