revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber's 1989 musical has a number of
fresh touches, not least the reduced scale that keeps it from being
overwhelmed by grand production effects as the original was. But I fear
that most of the changes conspire to expose just how thin the musical
is, and both fans and those coming to it for the first time are likely
to be mildly disappointed.
on a novel by
David Garnett, this sung-through show (lyrics by Don Black and Charles
Hart) follows the convoluted romantic and sexual entanglements of a
small group of people who passionately love each other in just about
every possible permutation.
young man is
obsessed with an older actress, who becomes the mistress and then wife
of his rich uncle without ever fully breaking with the nephew. Uncle
meanwhile has a second mistress on the side, as his wife has a second
live-in lover. Years later, still in love with the actress, the nephew
becomes entangled with her precociously sexual teenage daughter, and
finally tries to escape by running off with - well, you get the idea.
intention, implied in his title, was to explore all the forms passion
takes, and if you think he missed any, it's just because I simplified
that the small-scale staging, awash in Lloyd Webber's melodies, would
intensify the hothouse atmosphere of all this rampant sexuality, but
director Trevor Nunn has made a number of choices that keep this from
happening. Chief among them - and I cannot understand this - is
deliberately underplaying or actively fighting the music.
of the first
act is little more than recitativ, half-spoken dialogue to an
underlying musical score that keeps resisting any impulse to break into
actual melody. But the few real songs that are there, like Seeing Is
Believing and A Memory Of Happy Moments, are underplayed or rushed
through, rather than being allowed to stand out and capture us.
the show's big
hit, Love Changes Everything, is sabotaged by the director, who has
clearly guided Michael Arden to act the song more than sing it,
searching out every pause or emphasis resulting from a freshly-realized
thought. While this may make the moment more 'real' and more satisfying
for the actor, it has the effect of fighting the music, interrupting
the flow of the melody and never letting the song soar.
be fair, I can
see part of what Trevor Nunn was getting at. In 1989 some of the
characters' pain at being unable to escape their passions was cushioned
by the lush melodies, and we do get more of a sense of the torment of
love this time around. But what do you come to a Lloyd Webber musical
for, if not lush melodies?
this is a
deliberate (if sorely misguided) directorial choice is shown by the
fact that other potentially big numbers, the actress's Anything But
Lonely or the mistress's The Wine And The Dice, are undercut in exactly
the same way, by treating them like spoken dialogue and fighting the
doesn't register as a song at all, and The Wine only comes alive when
the singer shuts up and lets the dancers take over.
set-piece songs, only the uncle's First Man You Remember is allowed to
glow as the lovely song it is, such a sweet moment that we may blind
ourselves to the fact that the only real love song in the show is sung
by a father to his teenage daughter.
bravura performances would have helped, but while all the principals -
Michael Arlen (nephew), Katherine Kingsley (actress), Dave Willetts
(uncle), Rosalie Craig (mistress) - are OK, none is more than that, and
I can't believe that you would miss much if you happened to see an
understudy in any of those roles.
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- Aspects of Love - Menier 2010