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Last Updated: Thursday, 16 September, 2004, 13:19 GMT 14:19 UK
New Lloyd Webber show divides critics
Michael Crawford
Michael Crawford returns to the stage in a fat suit as Count Fosco
Andrew Lloyd Webber's latest West End production The Woman in White opened at the Palace Theatre this week.

The musical, adapted from Wilkie Collins' Victorian thriller, stars Michael Crawford and Maria Friedman.

But critics are divided on the success of the new production from the man behind international stage hits such as Cats and The Phantom of the Opera.


The Woman in White is no ankle-swinger of a show. There is little gaiety. The first, long half is almost entirely bare of bounce.

But by the end of the night this spooky Victorian tale of horror and selfless love works.

Lloyd Webber's music, never before so classical and operatic, becomes hypnotic and slowly unveils its melodies. You have to work for it but it's worth it.

The Woman in White sees a more mature, experimental Andrew Lloyd Webber. It may not match many box office records, but it certainly breaks new ground.


"You can get away with anything," sings Michael Crawford's Count Fosco in The Woman in White.

But, although musicals get way with murder, not even Andrew Lloyd Webber's best score in years and Trevor Nunn's visually vibrant production can disguise the fact that this show is saddled with an impossible book.

You can't expect a musical to reproduce the novel's innovative narrative technique in which the story is told from multiple perspectives. But what you can expect is a musical to respect its source.

It's a pity [Charlotte] Jones' [adapted] book isn't better because the show has a lot going for it. Lloyd Webber has written a particularly good score.


Lloyd Webber's score is at its best when most in the spirit of the story's weird Gothic overtones... but we are a long way from the brilliance of Sondheim's Victorian musical Sweeney Todd.

Too many of the songs emit the generic pop-opera sound of Lloyd Webber-land.

And for all of Crawford's efforts to frisk up Fosco, the lyrics don't have enough comic lift, the cod-Italianate You Can Get Away With Anything, being the nearest to something truly funny.

That said, Lloyd Webber seems more in his element here than in his last two comparative failures. I suspect The Woman in White will be haunting the West End for some time to come.


If Lloyd Webber, so steeped in the Victorian age, couldn't get this one right, his artistic future looked bleak.

It therefore gives me no pleasure at all to report that The Woman in White is a terrible disappointment.

Yes, there are moments when Lloyd Webber comes up with the big lush romantic melodies that are his forte, though these days they tend to sound alarmingly like retreads of his own earlier work.

But the ultimate test for any stage production of The Woman in White is whether it makes the spine tingle and the flesh creep, and here the show proves a dead loss.

Crawford's nerves over royal show
14 Sep 04  |  Entertainment
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07 Jan 04  |  Entertainment

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