The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber review – blows off lockdown cobwebs

Curve, Leicester
Powerhouse renditions of songs from Joseph, Phantom, Superstar and more – plus memories from the man himself – dazzle in an inventive show

Andrew Lloyd Webber is the first to acknowledge that his music is anathema to some audiences. If you don’t like it, get out now, the composer jokily declaims from a throne in a video appearance opening this celebratory concert. Otherwise, just sit back and abandon your defences to the music of the night, as songs from Joseph, Starlight Express, Phantom and other hits are delivered in the round without so much as a dreamcoat, a pair of roller skates or a mask on the revolve stage.

Nikolai Foster’s stripped-back but inventive production is full of riches, performed by three former Evitas, two Phantoms and the newly graduated Shem Omari James. A seventh cast member, Karen Mavundukure, withdrew due to injury, sparking some last-minute changes. The six actors start by removing dust sheets from storage trunks and perform a cappella snatches of the songs beneath a low-hanging, crisscrossed lighting rig that resembles an art installation. When the band breaks out the opening of Superstar, the rigging ascends, the lights go on and you’d be forgiven for thinking there’s no better way to blow off the lockdown cobwebs and resurrect live theatre.

Great range … Jessica Daley.
Great range … Jessica Daley. Photograph: Ellie Kurttz

Filmed around Leicester, the composer’s video links offer insights and anecdotes. We learn how seeing a disastrous Judy Garland concert inspired Evita, how Sunset Boulevard’s With One Look began as a tune about The Little Mermaid and how Cats is an exception to the musical-theatre rule that a great story can carry an OK score but not vice versa. By the time the show ends with a gleefully raucous Stick It to the Man from School of Rock, you’re thinking not just of Lloyd Webber’s campaigning for music education but also the origins of Joseph in a 20-minute piece for school and the defiant spirit and outsider status that links renegade teacher Dewey Finn to the lead characters in so many of his other musicals. Those include his new Cinderella, which is given a sneak preview here with the inclusion of the rocky, rebellious anthem Bad Cinderella.

Ria Jones reprises her role as Sunset Boulevard’s Norma Desmond, recently filmed at Curve, and again elegantly conveys the gestural precision of silent-screen acting. The fact that she also sings a spine-tingling Memory from Cats means that Grizabella’s faded dreams and bid for a new start are echoed when Jones sings Desmond’s comeback fantasy. Desmond’s delusion and isolation then reverberate through a selection of Phantom and Love Never Dies songs, which have Tim Rogers and Tim Howar combining the right physicality with powerhouse vocals. Jessica Daley is superb as Christine, the band play as if possessed and there’s a blizzard of dry ice.

Daley excels across the two-and-a-half octave range of Unexpected Song and, standing in for Mavundukure on I Don’t Know How to Love Him, gives a sweetly breezy version, not dwelling on that song’s torment. But Matthew Spencer-Smith’s band wrings the despair out of the succeeding Gethsemane and is especially good during the careening Sunset Boulevard Car Chase, with James inhabiting the ragged desperation of screenwriter Joe Gillis.

Madalena Alberto as Evita in The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Madalena Alberto as Evita in The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber. Photograph: Ellie Kurttz

It’s a joy, after all the streamed and socially distanced musical theatre concerts made up mostly of solo performances, to see dramatic scenes created through songs with multiple voices. If Ben Cracknell’s light show for the Cats overture feels a little like being caught in the headlights, elsewhere his design adds an extra thrill, particularly to Variation 23, performed by cellist Natalie Hancock. In Colin Richmond’s set design, the costume trunks form a podium for Madalena Alberto’s fantastic Evita and a locomotive for Howar’s nimble Skimbleshanks.

The inclusion of the international cast’s personal memories of hearing and performing the good Lord’s songs is neatly done and never gushing. The inclusion of local singer Alyshia Dhakk for a moving Pie Jesu and Curve Young Company for the finale make this a celebration not just of Lloyd Webber but of Leicester, too.


Chris Wiegand

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Unmasked by Andrew Lloyd Webber – digested read
The memoirs of British musical theatre’s foremost composer are rendered prestissimo by John Crace

John Crace

11, Mar, 2018 @5:00 PM

Article image
Andrew Lloyd Webber claims he discovered Rihanna on his travels
Impresario says he spotted singer entertaining at Sandy Lane, Barbados, but decided not to ‘bring her back’ from holiday to join his stage stable

Guardian music

14, Dec, 2016 @9:56 AM

Article image
Andrew Lloyd Webber does Eurovision

Carrie Dunn: Lloyd Webber is turning his sights from the West End to Moscow. Which of his top tunes could be the Eurovision hit of 2009?

Carrie Dunn

20, Oct, 2008 @11:57 AM

Article image
Andrew Lloyd Webber calls Cats film 'ridiculous'
Composer of hit musical says director Tom Hooper didn’t consult those involved in the original show when making his widely panned film adaptation

Catherine Shoard

03, Aug, 2020 @12:07 PM

Article image
Andrew Lloyd Webber to stage School of Rock
Theatre composer plans School of Rock musical based on the Jack Black film to follow Profumo affair 'chamber musical'

Matt Trueman

08, Apr, 2013 @12:29 PM

Article image
Killing Eve's Emerald Fennell and Andrew Lloyd Webber create new Cinderella
Musical will premiere in London in September with new story and ‘hugely witty’ lyrics

Chris Wiegand

10, Jan, 2020 @11:19 AM

Article image
Andrew Lloyd Webber Lloyd Webber sets up scholarships to help future stars of music theatre
Composer and theatrical producer behind Cats and Evita to pay for 30 young actors, singers and dancers to study

Dalya Alberge

21, May, 2011 @5:51 PM

Article image
Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Cinderella to close in the West End
Shock news that show will end in June at London’s Gillian Lynne theatre brings heartache for company and those who had been due to join cast

Chris Wiegand

02, May, 2022 @8:21 AM

Article image
Sunset Boulevard review – Hollywood musical is milder than Wilder
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s version of the 1950 film is smartly staged by Leicester’s Curve, starring Ria Jones and Danny Mac

Chris Wiegand

04, Jan, 2021 @12:01 AM

Article image
Andrew Lloyd Webber cancels opening night of Cinderella due to Covid case
The composer calls it ‘a devastating decision that will affect the livelihoods of hundreds of people, and disappoint thousands’

Chris Wiegand

19, Jul, 2021 @4:33 PM