40 Years of Andrew Lloyd Webber

Adam Wollerton

Last week, ITV decided to pay tribute to the living-legend that is Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber with a mash-up television show of musicals, interview and previews. With the perfect crossover between television and theatre, how could I miss the chance to have something to say on this programme?

Michael Ball took the show by the helm and led us through the life of Webber as he sat happily behind his piano. It was very light and friendly, with very few prying questions. I mean, Mr Ball wouldn’t really want to push his luck with Lord Webber who could very much be holding his career in the palm of his hand, now would he.

This meant that the interview sections were very light-hearted quick-fire questions about who he wished had sung one of his songs, to which he said Elvis, and also what’s his most inspired decision, to which he replied marrying his wife. Aww. And so the evening progressed and in came the music. First up to perform was Tim Minchin, to give a glimpse at Webber’s latest touring production of Jesus Christ Superstar. Now, my first review for Vada was of this production and how fitting that they now appear to recognise that Minchin is actually the star of this show. Ben Forster and Mel C did make an appearance shortly afterwards, which was somewhat better than when I had seen them the first time, but I still have to say that this is not my favourite Webber show.

I have always said that popstars do not belong on the West End stage – they have always picked up bad habits from popstardom that should never be brought into a theatre – Kimberly Walsh is certainly no exception, especially when pitted against Denise Van Outen as a seasoned theatre player. The two women took to the stage to sing the Webber hit ‘Take That Look Off Your Face’ from Tell Me On A Sunday. Van Outen, although lacking some power to her voice, certainly captures the character perfectly and although not performing for the camera, the audience still engaged with her presentation. On the other hand, Walsh naively throws a few head nods to signify ‘Yes, I’m serious about this’ and a few head shakes to say ‘Oh, you’re wrong’ to the audience as well as some simple throw away gestures. She also fails to engage with her co-star on stage, made evident when she turns to Van Outen at one point and falters physically when she isn’t looking back instantly. Stay away from theatre.

Staying on the topic of popstars disgracing the theatre stage, I must take a moment to highlight the abomination that was Mylene Klass. Now Bombay Dreams is by no means Webber’s best production, but Klass just proves that with popstars in the modern day, you’ll be lucky to find one whose voice sounds the same when they talk as it does when they ‘sing’ (auto-tuned burble). The fact that Mylene Klass MIMED in the very proximity of Lord Webber had me so frustrated. If you can’t handle the heat of the spotlights, stay off the stage!

Luckily, a REAL West End star, Heather Headley, took to the stage to save the evening from complete devastation and sang an amazing version of ‘Memory’ from Cats. Her facial expressions leave something to be admired when she sings, but her voice is astounding. Interesting factoid for you all here, the song ‘Memory’, made famous by Elaine Paige, was originally meant to be sung by our very own Judi Dench, but due to a brief trip into hospital, Paige took on the huge task of learning the song in three days ready to perform it on opening night. And credit to the Director, Trevor Nunn, of Cats here as if it wasn’t for him telling Webber that he could pull the show off, it would never have been the hit that it is, as it would never have made it to the stage.

The night was certainly better from this point onwards but I did worry when Nicole Scherzinger took to the stage… not another popstar. If there is anyone that could possibly change my standing on popstars disgracing the West End, it is Miss Scherzinger. She delivered an entrancing, powerful, and emotional rendition of ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argentina’ from Evita. I sat open mouthed at this shock. I knew she could sing, but Musical Theatre singing is a whole different and challenging game to pop singing. However, it was, in short, amazing.

Michael Ball also took the opportunity to sing a few Webber hits (there has to be some perks to being the host of the show right?) and he sang wonderfully with Sierra Boggess, when they chose the Phantom classic ‘All I Ask Of You’, and rounded the evening off brilliantly with a powerhouse performance of ‘Love Changes Everything’ with Il Divo.

If you haven’t had the chance to watch the show yet, it’s a great hour and a half celebration of 40 years of Webber and even includes a brief glimpse at his next production – an entirely original one! No re-production! (Yay!) Stick with it through Walsh and Klass and soon you’ll be singing along to 40 years of Webber. Here’s to many more!

@AdamWollerton