3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 14 July 2014
My problem with the title still remains: Stephen Ward is not the title of a musical. It relies on a decent knowledge of the Profumo affair- i.e. knowledge beyond the fact that there was probably someone called Profumo involved. If you're going to use a name, it better have an obvious resonance. There was a musical about the Profumo affair in 2007 actually, called A Model Girl- a much better title.
The second problem- that young audiences won't be familiar with the material- is not necessarily a problem. After all, how many people watching Evita are au fait with South American politics?. The fact that it was the fiftieth anniversary of the events meant that Stephen Ward's trial might pop up in the papers, and therefore people who were around at the time have a reason to remember it. And yes, the parallels with modern celebrity and the culture of scapegoating makes the show relevant; although ALW banks a little too much on this parallel.
For example, we get lots of songs showing the music of the time. The sixties' pastiches are very enjoyable- songs like 'Super Duper Hula Hooper' and 'Black-Hearted Woman'. ALW's strength has always been in creating a popular sound and as the sixties were his teenage years, he should know about the 'sound of the sixties'. Then we get songs showing the culture of the time: Cold War fears in 'Mother Russia, While We Can' and swinging orgies in 'You've Never Had It So Good'. The latter is a kinky version of Ascot Gavotte, with the assumption that Fifty Shades of Grey has whetted our appetites for such things. It is funny but not as witty as it could be; more of the simple Carry On type humour. Then we have police interviews, press interviews and the trial- all sung of course.
You might well wonder where the characters are. We've had a whole Who's-Who of them in the song 'Manipulation', which has a very clumsy conceit where Christine Keeler doesn't recognise the name Harold Macmillan, so of course Stephen has to remind her that he's the Prime Minister! To be fair, the song is entertaining and makes a nice introduction into a world where all the real political decisions are made between the sheets. However, these type of scene-setting songs make up the bulk of Stephen Ward. As another reviewer has said, there's also a touch of pastoralism in the songs that are essentially dialogue sung to music (You're So Very Clever To Have Found This). It's strongly reminiscent of Aspects of Love; you half expect to hear Michael Ball.
The opening number, Human Sacrifice, has elements of a character song but Stephen (sung by Alexander Hanson) is also the narrator so it's a story introduction maninly. We now know the figure and mystery of Stephen Ward the historical figure but not what he's like as a character- what makes him tick. The summary we get from this song is he's just a nice bloke who likes to play the field but there's no real indication as to what drives him to this orgy lifestyle. Stephen also has no love interest, as in real life Christine Keeler had a strictly platonic relationship with him. ALW knows how to write a nice love song but he doesn't get enough chances here.
Another song, 1963, works well on both sound and character as teenage call girls Christine Keeler (Charlotte Spencer) and Mandy Rice Davies (Charlotte Blackridge) sing of their hopes and dreams of fame and celebrity.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 15 January 2014
After reading a lot of chatter on the web, I was concerned this might not live up to the high expectations I have from Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Glad I decided to find out for myself. While this is vastly different from Andrew's more operatic scores (like Sunset, Aspects and Phantom) he is a gifted composer who's tunes find a way of remaining in your mind long after you've first heard them. I've woken up humming some seemingly less popular songs from this ("You're so very clever to have found this"; "He sees something in me") and find myself replaying the "hits" like "Human Sacrifice" as well as "This side of the Sky".
"Too Close to the Flame" seems to be one of the most dramatic finale's ALW has written since "Anything but Lonely" from Aspects of Love. After all that, the song "I'm hopeless when it comes to you" is worth buying the album itself. Truly one of ALW's classics.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 10 June 2014
Extremely good. Clever lyrics and splendid music. There's a wonderful cast too - especially Alex Hanson as Ward, and the 22-year-old Charlotte Spencer as Christine Keeler. She deserves a glittering career.
To tell the truth I don't much enjoy Lloyd Webber's light entertainments (Phantom, Starlight, etc), though of course they're brilliantly suited for their intended audiences, and contain fine moments. But when he tackles a more adult topic he produces something really valuable. And in my view, this is as good as anything he's written.
The musical explores the downfall of Stephen Ward, a doctor who enjoyed introducing society figures to young and pretty girls. In particular, Jack Profumo, the Secretary of State for War, to the 19 year old show girl Christine Keller. The resulting scandal destroyed them all. The musical argues that Ward was an honourable man, motivated only by "kindness". Personally I'm not convinced, but that's not a weakness in the musical. It's a strength. It makes the show thought-provoking and challenging in a way that more black-and-white musicals are not. Jazzy tracks such as "When you get to know me" underline the moral ambiguity.
It's true that several other tracks which must have worked well on stage, aren't interesting enough to play several times at home (e.g. Mother Russia, Black-Hearted Woman and much of the later part of the show which is little more than dialogue). This is not true of some other Lloyd Webber shows, for example Evita. However, most tracks repay repeated listening. "This Side of the Sky" always moves me, and Charlotte Spencer's voice is charming. Christine's songs are more touching than any in Evita or Sunset Boulevard because her character is so much more attractive than Evita's or Norma's. For me, the greatest tragedy of the real history is what happened to Christine, not what happened to Ward. Her songs dreaming of the future are therefore not just lovely but poignant. All her young hopes will be dashed. Her life ruined.
Strangely, though, having been given five songs in Act 1, Christine doesn't get a single proper song in Act 2. A real shame when one had become so fond of her. The audio recording does not describe the painful end of her relationship with Ward. Presumably this was dealt with in the stage production, but unfortunately I had no chance to see the musical at the theatre (I live in Asia; shows like this make me wonder why). I'd pay a lot for a video of the stage version, but they seem to be released very rarely. One can only hope there will be a revival, but it's hard to believe that the cast could be as good again.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 28 February 2014
Very clever lyrics and great melodies. Seeing the show in a fortnight but horrified that it is closing so soon. Very sad.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 16 February 2014
Saw this show at the beginning of January and thought 'ALW has done it again'! The acting and singing were excellent and for those of us who remember the scandal well, we couldn't help but realise what a miscarriage of justice Stephen Ward was dealt. The songs were so relevant to that time and I'm hoping to see the show again.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 14 March 2014
Question: Why has a fabulous musical such as Stephen Ward failed to attract a full house at every performance and be pulled after such a short run? Answer: Its title! Having originally intended to go to see it in May, once the decision was made to quit at the end of this month (March), I quickly made arrangements to see a matinee performance … and having been so impressed, I've now thankfully still got time to see it again! Being of an age that I can well remember the Profumo affair, ALW's stunning musical score added to the brilliant lyrics from Don Black and Christopher Hampton made this easily the best new musical to hit the West End in a decade. Had its title included sex, scandal or political corruption, it could be running for years, but instead 'Stephen Ward' means nothing to most of London's tourists or most British youngster who would also know nothing of the political scandal that brought the then government down. The whole cast, production team and musicians must be absolutely gutted … I certainly am!
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 2 January 2015
I saw this at the first preview and was fortunate enough to meet and speak with Andrew himself.It was a great show,but -as other reviewers have pointed out- suffered from a bad title (Having changed "The Beautiful Game" into something else perhaps he can revive this with a better one?)
It was noticeable that the audience were mainly over fifty and what with the warnings about this show not being suitable for children and look all the giggly reviews about the "sexy Andrew" etc., it is hardly surprising that it did not run for long. For some reason - not borne out by the facts- people have come to associate this composer with "family shows".
This was a good score although by no means his best.No big memorable hits came out of it and Joanna Riding was rather wasted in a role ( as Ms a Profumo) that gave her only one song, albeit a good one.
As usual,Andrew was the victim of his faulty choosing of bad material.This is a weakness he has suffered from for most of his career which can largely be traced to his -Jerome Kern like -inability to write lyrics on one hand and inability to keep a solid collaborator on the other. One can only hope that his next planned show, a stage adaption of the 2003 film "School of Rock" will fair better.
Meanwhile,he remains the "last man standing" in the musical world who can still write tunes that have actual melodies and this cast album is a testimony to that fact.If you are a musical fan buy it and appreciate the only new musical around that gives you something to hum afterwards!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 4 April 2014
This soundtrack is wonderful. In my opinion, it's the best music Lloyd Webber has written in years. Sadly, the show only ran for 4 months, during which time, I managed to see it twice. It should have been called something else (Profumo? Keeler? What a Scandal?) and then people would have been intrigued to go and see it as it was an excellent show. It wasn't advertised anywhere in London - and I visited several tube stations during my visits and saw lots of shows advertised - but not this one. Alex Hanson as the lead gave exquisite performances and his voice is just beautiful. This is very sad for the West End.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
The sensational sex scandal of 1963. Very famous names were allegedly involved. Mind boggling revelations proved manna to the media - public agog, eager for the next instalment. War Minister Profumo with the same prostitute as a Russian spy? At the very least, a major threat to national security. This was but the tip of the iceberg, rumours multiplying about sexual orgies featuring prominent people. Was Royalty involved, exactly how many aristocrats, top judges, MPs? Accusations. Denials. The Government seemingly out of control and about to topple.
Frantically The Establishment closed ranks to protect its own. Top priority was the need to create a diversion. Stephen Ward became the scapegoat.
This is the dramatic background to Andrew Lloyd Webber's latest musical. Here he tries to set the record straight about the extraordinarily gifted osteopath (Churchill and Gandhi amongst his grateful patients). It is a sympathetic portrayal. The man was no angel but certainly not the monster he was made out to be - waxwork effigy in Blackpool's Chamber of Horrors alongside Hitler and the Acid Bath Murderer. He, perhaps naively, had simply set out to enjoy life. All around were captivated by his charm, he friend of the elite - they quick to desert him in his time of need.
Be advised this is no Andrew Lloyd Webber blockbuster with a score likely to linger in the memory. Throughout the music is more restrained, ideally complementing the tender, witty, sometimes disturbing book and lyrics by Christopher Hampton and Don Black. This is a recreation of the times. While not holding back on the sleazy aspects, much is sensitive and wistful - a wry depiction of the doctor who became victim of spin.
Alexander Hanson is excellent as Ward. His songs here were especially enjoyed - from "Human Sacrifice" (he self-deprecatingly musing about being amongst those waxworks) to "Too Close to the Flame" (rueful reflections on the cost of having risen so high). Charlotte Spencer is Christine Keeler. In "He Sees Something in Me" she appreciates Ward as one who has never tried to exploit her. Devastatingly, though, fame proves her main aim - she soon totally out of her depth. Joanna Riding impresses as actress Valerie Hobson, Profumo's wife. Just the one song, "I'm Hopeless When It Comes to You", rendered with touching dignity, she determined to remain loyal.
The CD lasts almost seventy minutes. Before playing, I wondered why no notes about the historical background - surely key to full appreciation of the work. No need to worry. All emerges clearly in the lyrics. These are printed in full and well worth studying, creating a splendidly vivid picture of how certain life was then. I enjoyed the range: tender ("When You Get to Know Me"; "This Side of Sky", "Love Nest"); the mischievous (PM Macmillan's famous "You've Never Had It So Good" mocked by those as they sexually cavort - "you've never had it so often"); the unsettling ("Give Us Something Juicy", "Manipulation Reprise", "Police Interview", "The Arrest"). Politicians, police and press do NOT emerge with credit.
Andrew Lloyd Webber's shows often represent a great musical wallow, which I enjoy. There is much to admire here, though, with a more subdued score generously allowing greater focus on worthy lyrics.
Overall the show does admirably what it sets out to do: Stephen Ward presented as by no means the monster of depravity denounced by the authorities. It also invites speculation about the exact extent of the cover up, those who destroyed him to protect themselves. Top secret files are destined to remain so for many years yet, to shield famous names who are still alive. (Andrew Lloyd Webber was stonewalled when trying to raise the matter in the House of Lords.)
Hopefully there will be a video, a chance for not just theatregoers to appreciate the show in its entirety.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 30 April 2014
Criminally closed before its time and shackled and weighted down by one of the worst titles to ever grace a musical this is actually some fine work.. Highly romantic in the style of Aspects with the darkness of Women in White - the contemporary pieces slot in nicely.
Its unfortunately not helped either by some utterly dreadful lyrics by Don Black which are so cringe worthy in places they make you shudder with disbelief.
But the music and performances are good.. Hope it gets a run on tour.