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Fringe Online 2020

Andrew Lloyd-Webber 50th Birthday Live from the Royal Albert Hall, 1998

Andrew Lloyd-Webber, Universal and The Really Useful Theatre Company

Genre: Live Music, Mainstream Theatre, Music, Musical Theatre, Online Theatre

Venue: Royal Albert Hall

Festival: ,

Low Down

Directed for the Screen by David Mallet and for the Stage by Steven Pimlott, Produced for Video by Andy Picheta and for the stage by The Really Useful Theatre Company, executive Producer for Video Gary Lucchesi,

Choreography’s by Anthony Van Laast, Set and Costumes by Mark Thompson, Musical Direction an d supervision Michael Reed, Video Lighting Mie Sutcliffe, Lighting Design Durham Marenghi, Music produced by Nigel wright, Sound supervised by Martin Levan, Sound Design Terry Saunders, Sunset Boulevard sequence conducted by David Caddick, Miss Close’s costumes Anthony Powell. Till May2nd . 19.00


The fifth Shows Must Go On Lloyd Webber Musicals series is a bit of a break.

Themed as a celebratory tribute to musical compositions of Lloyd Webber, this show screened live from the Royal Albert Hall. Featuring hits creamed from some of his most renowned productions – Starlight Express, Evita, Cats, Phantom of the Opera, Jesus Christ Superstar – it has to be staged carefully so as not to curdle.

The RAH leads of course to potential spookiness, with that uniquely haunting manner of some large buildings. So on a near figure 8 stage, designed to look like one of those AIDS day loops of charity but in lit-up violet, the narrow compass of performance moves. There’s some limited staging, as in the ‘Requiem for Evita’. There’s some obvious star-turns but more interestingly some singers who stand out for their filling a whole suite of roles

We get the title song ‘Whistle Down the Wind’ from the musical of that name, a really welcome window onto this 1996 work, which Christopher Hampton crafted from the 1962 film sung by Tina Arena very attractively in a pop-song rather than musical fashion. It’s attractive, but I so wish it was more memorable. You so want an obscure and interesting musical tone good.

Donny Osmond in ‘Any Dream Will Do’ from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat from 1968 returns us to form – and with a children’s chorus as is pretty obligatory. It’s still one of those manifestations of Lloyd-Webber’s genius for melody which like a lot of popular composers and pop-musicians is a gift that dulls in the harsh sun of experience. Osmond in the more plangent ‘Close Every Door to Me’ is just as nailing in the dark-of-soul number.

Julian Lloyd-Webber takes centre stage with his cello in his brothers Paganini Variations. However funky and populist it gets you realize how fresh and mildly outrageous this was, taking a classical variation standard and subjecting to a much more pop-standard treatment. The orchestration with a band, keyboard electric guitar (memorably) and percussion is wonderfully vulgar in the best sense. Some people might remember its se as a theme tune in the od South Bank show before ITV jettisoned that and The World in Action as it ceased to pretend to shadow the BBC.

Julian returns in a treatment and reduced band for another instrumental segue-in from the Paganini Variations. We’re then treated to two extended musicals’ excerpts.

Thus ‘Requiem for Evita’ next. This is a big number, and there’s a staged chorus over 40 strong. We have the Sting numbers ‘Oh What a Circus’ and ‘High Flying Adored’ both nailed by Antonio Banderas (yes a fine ringing tenor) and ‘There’s Light At The End of the Tunnel’ from Starlight Express, performed by its original star Ray Shell.

Then Evita herself, Elaine Paige with ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argentina’.

Denis O’Neill’s blazes in Jesus Christ Superstar with its ‘Hosanna’ – Judas steals the show. It’s the Prokofiev number, and repays its Romeo and Juliet derivation with interest

Marcus Lovett’s very different ‘Hosanna’ from the Requiem comes as a balm to the high-stepping. After that staged Hosanna, Sarah Brightman’s starring role in the ‘Pieu Jesu’ from the Requiem with Ben De’ath.

Marcus Lovett’s in Jesus Christ Superstar returns with the ’Superstar’; number. Judas’ ‘Don’t Get Me Wrong’ then Michael Ball’s Jesus in The Gethsemane confrontation (’I Only Want to Say’)

Ben Banderas joins Brightman in The Phantom of the Opera with its thrilling opening theme played naturally on the great RAH Willis organ comes next with a flashing light show. The orchestral intro leads into the great torch song duet ‘All I Ask Of You’ flaming out. And then the other ’The Music of the Night’ hauntingly by Brightman alone.

The 1996 Whistle Down the Wind returns for a sequence, first Bonnie Tyler with Veronica Hart ,  Luise Marshall, Femi Taylor (as The Soul Girls) leads off in ‘Tyre Tracks and Broken Hearts’ sung with a stomping rawness like Suzi Quantro with a stench of Detroit diesel. And its refrain ‘Faster Than the Limits Allow’ which is a revelation Not everything is as fine from this musical, and the attractive title song can be bland. But this at least is upper second rank Lloyd Webber and these artists make it sound like an undiscovered hit. Perhaps it is..

After its revving finale melts into a cute white-suited line-up of young male vocalists – it’s Boyzone – in ’No Matter What They Tell You’ which is a sweet fuzzy anthem with a country swing. It’s also like the first song

‘Vaults of Heaven’ also from Whistle Down the Wind is sung by Michael Ball. Wonderful vocality, the material attractive though sadly this musical never as memorable as the finest Lloyd-Webber.

There’s a punchy orchestral interlude and we’re with Sunset Boulevard’s intro. It’s a fascinating musical and Craig Revell Hallwood’s revival in 2009 with the marvellous Catherine Smith almost persuaded s it was a lost masterpiece. It really s one of the finest scores Lloyd Webber wrote after the 1980s, dating from 1993, after Aspects of Love. We launch into  ‘Once Upon a Time’ and then ‘With One Look’ it’s thrillingly tortured stuff shot through with glitz in its dark veins. Marcus Lovett again who shows a fine laconically-edged tenor range. He musically introduces Glenn Close who’s terrific here in this sequence-within-a-sequence.

It ratchets up for the illusory glamour catching the real thing in her throat ‘As If We Never Said Goodbye’ where Close’s soaring finish makes you almost regret she’s not primarily a musicals singer.

Michael Ball takes his own signature in ‘Love Changes Everything’ from Aspects of Love belting a lyric arc and making such velocity intensely lyrical too.

Finally Cats lovers, waiting for too ling (the chat was exploding ‘Cats’ people scream) and ‘Memory’ with what must be the most wonderful performance of the evening with Elaine Paige giving everything right to the top of her range and holding nothing vocally back. And then whispering down her final words. The crowd go wild here. Lloyd-Webber himself comes down and we’re aware that the last three numbers are a built-in encore.

After an appreciative speech Kiri ti Kanawa returns for the premiere ‘The Heart Is Slow To Learn’ (also known as ‘Our Kind of Love’’) was stranded first as a abortive sequel to Phantom (which of course got written much later, and it was rightly recycled then) then after Kiri made it her own soaringly with an exultantly high soprano, got lodged in The Beautiful Game in 2000. It’s a memorable song and deserves to end up where it was destined in the flawed fascinating, potentially wonderful Love Never Dies. Ti Kanawa’s vocality is she’s less sheerly moving than Paige who sears as well as provides a halo of feeling. Ti Kanawa, whose popular grasp in the opera world is impressive, makes a gleaming vehicle for this song.

The title song ‘Whistle Down The Wind’ reprised by Lottie Mayor with Lloyd Webber at the piano actually comes across with warmth delicacy and most important a sense of wonder, the second time around. This musical was Lloyd-Webber’s latest, hence is disproportionate representation when its singers were still fresh with it. An accident of history its one I’m glad to see captured.

Finally Cats rounds the evening with the brass-led and rather John Williams feel to ‘The Jellicle Ball’ simply rendered as an upbeat orchestral reprise.

Whilst Paige’s ‘Memory’ proves the most memorable, moving and spell-binding performance, everyone here is equally superb. Brightman, ti Kanawa, Langford, the extraordinary Close and Ball, Banderos and Osmond, and hardly less fine Arena and O’Neill and Mayor, Shell and De’ath. For me the great discovery was the multi-roling Marcus Lovett, sexy and lethal, able to attack several roles and convince you he was born for them, even into them.