Andrew Lloyd Webber speaks directly to Leicester.
You know that feeling you get when a West End soprano belts out ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ in jeans and a casual black top just feet away after modestly introducing herself to you? No? It’s not every day you get to sit down with West End performers. That’s how it felt to experience The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber at Curve last night.
It seems odd to start this review midway through the second half of the show but the poignant moment will have stood out for all. A chat with each of the main cast was a startling break from the dramatics of the creative stage lighting and impassioned musical numbers. So many members of the audience were no doubt musical fans in general, but die-hard fans of Andrew Lloyd Webber will have been astonished to find themselves in conversation with such high-profile, West End performers, many of which have starred in Webber’s productions.
It will have been many of the audience’s first trip back to Curve since the pandemic and, with the cast introducing themselves and talking about how they came to be in the room with us that night, I think I speak for all of us that the audience united in that moment, as if all us musical-lovers were home again.
The two hour and 40-minute performance (including interval) was an intimate, personal concert dedicated specifically to the people of Leicester. Throughout, Webber appeared in exclusive clips filmed in and around Leicester and at Curve, which felt like a personal exchange with the man himself. A certain sort of pride was felt when he called Leicester ‘the home of the musical’, commenting specifically on our city's love of them. He let us in on secrets behind the stories and melodies he’d created and how they came to be, talking honestly about his work. Incredibly self-aware, he brought laughter to the room with quips about how many guests returned after the interval, how Cats lacks much of a storyline, and how he's never been asked to write a pop song.
The technical production was directed by Curve’s Nikolai Foster with an incredible cast starring Madalena Alberto (Evita, Dominion Theatre), Jessica Daley (An Officer and a Gentleman, Curve and UK tour, Over The Rainbow, BBC), Tim Howar (The Phantom of the Opera, Her Majesty’s Theatre), Shem Omari James (Songs For A New World, London Palladium), Ria Jones (Sunset Boulevard, Curve), Karen Mavundukure (The Color Purple, Curve) and Tim Rogers (Jesus Christ Superstar, UK and European tour).
I first saw The Phantom of the Opera on Webber's The Show Must Go On! YouTube channel during the first lockdown and was blown away watching though my computer screen, but to hear the numbers in such close proximity right before your eyes is something else. A spine-tingling, goose-pimping performance by Jessica Daley, who was a contestant in Webber’s BBC show Over the Rainbow in 2010, had us blinking in slow motion, dazed and ecstatic at the same time. Webber describes Daley as a rare and exceptional performer. With her crystal clear vocals and sweet stage charm, her performances were jaw-dropping – although you couldn't tell behind our masks. No one had me more start struck though than the legend that is Ria Jones. Having seen her in Sunset Boulevard at Curve a few years ago, I could picture no one else performing ‘As if We Never Said Goodbye’, the melody of which was originally pitched for a popular animated Disney movie – can you guess which? Jones’ rendition of ‘Memories’ from Cats was also exceptional and one everyone had been waiting for. She didn’t disappoint.
We were treated to three of Evita’s past Eva Perons in the cast (Jones, Daley, and Alberto). Madalena Alberto performed musical numbers from Evita with an exceptional level of energy and a truly heartfelt, moving delivery of ‘Don’t Cry for Me Argentina’.
It was an honour to be in the presence of past Phantom Tim Howar and Jesus Christ Superstar’s Judas, Tim Rogers, both giving iconic performances. The voice of Karen Mavundukure – who unfortunately injured her leg but continued on with utter determination and professionalism – was powerful, show-stopping, and did not falter, despite having to be seated due to her injury. To witness Shem Omari James’ exceptional voice and stage presence, for the first time for some, was also an honour.
We were lucky enough to hear 'Bad Cinderella' from Webber's newest musical Cinderella, as well as songs from Love Never Dies, Tell Me On A Sunday, Starlight Express, and many others.
Finishing with School of Rock, Webber commented that we must ‘get music back into schools’ to which applause erupted while the clip continued. The arts are an invaluable luxury that we get to experience in the UK. They have the power to teach history, geography, right and wrong, they can inspire and encourage self-expression, and develop communication and social skills. Judging by the emotion in the room last night, there were many others who felt the same.
The famous theatre ‘ghost light’ also starred throughout the show. The ghost light is used to light up every theatre stage when unoccupied. Superstitions say it deters evil spirts, while others believe it allows theatre ghosts to perform. In this show, the ghost light represented hope and resilience after the closure of Curve last year.
We're a shy bunch in Leicester and it's not often we have the courage to show our emotion by standing up at the end. But the instant urge to jump out of your seat as School of Rock dancers from CYCC left us on a high, was undeniable. The standing ovation was fully deserved. Many felt so moved that they stayed around to applaud the band, who were supposed to be playing us out with Webber melodies. You can’t get rid of his fans like that!
A huge thanks and well done to Curve for keeping everyone exceptionally Covid-safe and delivering drinks and snacks to seats.
See The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber at Curve until Saturday, June 19.
Written by Kerry Smith.
Kerry is editor of Leicester's bi-monthly publication Niche Magazine.