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4.0 out of 5 stars ONE OF LLOYD WEBBER'S BEST COMPILATIONS, DESPITE A FEW FLAWS, 12 Sep 2006
This review is from: Now And Forever (Audio CD)
Regardless of the fact that some of his latest efforts (most notably, The Woman in White) are disappointing, there can be little doubt that Andrew Lloyd Webber is one of the greatest composers ever to work in the musical theatre. Ever since his "Jesus Christ Superstar" hit the stage in the early 70-is, it was clear that the conception and perception of musicals are never going to be the same again. Many of his songs became standards not only in the theatre history, but also as tops on the charts. Even though he's British, his influence on the shape of the modern musical theatre expanded over the West End boundaries long ago and has thus made an enormous impact on Broadway. Two of his shows ("Cats" and "The phantom of the opera") hold the record as two the longest running shows in the history of Broadway. He has also been the only composer to have three of his shows running at Broadway concurrently. Some of his awards include three Grammies, a Golden Globe, an Oscar and a bunch of Tony awards. But perhaps most of all, Lloyd Webber is responsible for bringing the musicals and the theatre appealing to the wide audiences, who in different circumstances would not consider seeing a musical. The secret of his success is probably the mixture of beautiful and catchy melodies, interesting subject matter (though some, like Starlight Express, are too thin) and grandiose staging.

Over the years many compilations of his work have emerged. In the late 80-is and early 90-is it was the "Encore" series and lately the one-disc collection called "Gold". The one in question here can be considered one of the best currently on the market. First, it includes a 3-disc selections from all of his shows, minus the latest one, i.e., "The Woman in White", which, considering the triviality of the score, is no great lost. The fourth disc covers some of his most known songs sung by the famous artists. Then, there is the fifth disc with previously unreleased material, most of which are the songs ALW wrote with Tim Rice for various artists during the 70-is. The disks are all neatly packed in a hardcover book that features 67 pages of pictures and text with information about each of ALW's shows. One of the other assets here is the perfect sound quality, since all of the tracks have been digitally remastered.

Here are my basic impressions and comments regarding the material on the discs:

* Disc #1 has the selections from "Jesus Christ Superstar", "Evita", "Cats" and "Song & Dance". The Superstar material mostly comes from the Concept Recording. Although the songs sound beautiful as always, their orchestration is a bit dated now. Only Steve Balsamo's "Gethsemane" from the 1996 revival cast has a modern rock sound. "Evita" comes with the material from all of the major recordings: London, Broadway and the movie productions, as well as the Concept album. No objections here; since this is one of ALW's most satisfying works, every song is just perfect, although Patti LuPone, the Broadway and overall the best Evita, is left with only a couple of lines. With the selections from "Cats", however, I have some doubts. A plus to the choice of the "Jellicle ball" impressive orchestral sequence from the 1998 movie version and "Mister Mistoffelees" from the 1981 London cast. One of the best known ALW's songs, "Memory", also comes from that album. It's a pretty version and Elaine Paige's rendition cannot be matched, but why include this when the definite version, featuring an 80-piece orchestra and Elaine Paige with much better interpretation, can be found in the same movie version. Thusly, one has to buy Elaine Paige's latest 2-disc compilation "Centre Stage: The very best of Elaine Paige" to get that one. And "Gus the theatre cat" is more a recital than a song, so there was not much point in including that. Marti Webb brings her vocal charm to the "Song & Dance" sequence, Sarah Brightman sings "Unexpected song" with her famous soprano, but as much as I like her version, Bernadette Peters, who was in this show on Broadway is strangely left out here.

* Disc # 2 starts with "Starlight Express". This was never one of my favorite ALW's shows; the plot is even lighter than in "Cats" and the 1984 original cast recording is terribly dated. Yet, here we have one terrific duet, "I am starlight" from the original together with three songs from the later revivals and it seems that fresh orchestrations were just the thing Starlight needed. My favorite remains a touchy ballad, "Next time you fall in love". "Requiem" is the most solemn of all ALW's compositions, written in 1985 to commemorate the death of his father. Placido Domingo's tenor rides together with the chorus all the way through the strong "Hosanna", only to be joined by Sarah Brightman in the final moments of this song. She then gives an echoing deliverance of "Pie Jesu". What can be said of ALW's next show, "The Phantom of the Opera"? A phenomenon in its own right, it's easy to see from the six numbers included here why this is one of the best and most beloved musicals of all time. The cast, the music, the story - everything is perfect. Although "Aspects of love" was never a popular hit, it does have some of the most beautiful love melodies ALW has ever written. "Love changes everything" sung by Michael Ball is probably one of the best tunes ever about love. The rest of the selected material here has a dreamy love flavor and the melodies find their way into your brain in the best Lloyd Webber way.

* ALW's first musical, "Joseph and the amazing Technicolor dreamcoat" was more successful in its revival form than the original from the 70-is. The three songs included here are sung by the show stars, Jason Donovan and Donny Osmond. Maria Friedman was not a lucky choice to play the narrator, as the track from the 1998 movie version shows. "By Jeeves" was ALW's only big flop when it came to the stage in the 70-is. The 1995 revival sounds much better though, full of funny numbers in the best manner of the musical comedy. "Travel hopefully" remains one of the show's highlights on this compilation. "Sunset Boulevard" comes next. "Sunset" remains for me one of Webber's best scores; lush and beautiful. I listen to the original cast recording with Patti LuPone all the time. However, here most of the songs are performed by Glenn Close. A big mistake. If you've ever listened the American premiere recording with her, you'll know what I am talking about. She may have a strong stage presence, but her vocal abilities are too limited, and her aggressive approach to the role lacks any subtlety. Therefore, the two big numbers from this show, "With one look" and "As if we never said goodbye" are ruined by the fact she can't sing. The same goes for the American Joe Gillis, who was played by Alan Campbell. Luckily, Patti LuPone and Kevin Anderson, the original Norma and Joe from the London production, make their brief entrance here with the "Perfect year"; enough to show how better they are. The funny thing is, on the jacket and inside of it, Glenn Close and Alan Campbell are credited as performers in this song as well. If this was a mistake on ALW's part, it was a good one. The next ALW's show, "Whistle down the wind" was never a critic's dear and yet the audiences rushed in to see it in London. The score brings back ALW to his rock and roll roots of the seventies and the story is quite interesting. But the selections here are not the happiest, since the cast recording boasts with much better songs. And finally, "The Beautiful Game". Again, we have one of those ALW's shows that is worth in its individual parts rather than as a whole. "Our kind of love" and "Let us love in peace" are two catchy ballads. The latter is a nice amalgam version not available elsewhere. The two other tracks here I could live without.

* Disc # 4 has the songs from all the above shows performed by different artists. The assembled tracks have their pros and cons. For example, we have some previously unreleased stuff, like Dame Kiri Te Kanawa's operettic rendition of "The heart is slow to learn", or a stunning and epic "A kiss is a terrible thing to waste" from "Whistle down the wind", performed by The Metal Philharmonic Orchestra. Then again, what was the point in including almost identical tracks as the ones on the previous disks? So we have Michael Ball again singing "Love changes everything" with only a bit different orchestration; Sarah Brightman comes out again with the same Phantom duets, but only with the different male singers. It would be much more appropriate to include tracks from the Toronto Cast of the Phantom, with Colm Wilkinson. Other pop deliverances (Tina Arena's "Whistle down the wind", Barbra Streisand's "As if we never said goodbye", Boyzone's "No matter what" and many more) were wisely chosen. Patti LuPone is again nowhere to be found and Petula Clark's "With one look" sounds too worn-out.

* The last disc is probably the one that will be of most interest to Lloyd Webber aficionados. It consists of entirely previously unreleased material ALW for the most part wrote for various artists during his early years, with Tim Rice. Some of these tunes, not successful as a singles, were later used in his shows. Thus "Down thru' summer" became "Buenos Aires"in Evita, "Try it and see", an unsuccessful attempt for the Eurovision was used for "King Herod's song" in "Superstar" and so on. Some of these songs are nicely made pop songs: "Make believe love", ALW's first recorded composition, for which he provided the lyrics; "Goodbye Seattle", sung by Paul Raven, who later became Gary Glitter; "Come back Richard, your country needs you", from a never made musical, sung here by Tim Rice, or Latin flavored "Magdalena", with Tony Christie singing. My all time favorite here is a song called "It's easy for you", sung by none other than Elvis Presley himself. Lloyd Webber and Rice sent him a demo recording that he accepted and recorded this live version a couple of weeks before he died. It's amazing to hear how his voice remained in the perfect shape. Also, there is a track of Andrew Lloyd Webber singing "Policle dogs and Jellicle cats" while plying the piano. His voice doesn't sound bad at all.

Taken as a whole, this compilation makes a perfect birthday or Christmas present to any fan of Andrew Lloyd Webber shows, or just anybody interested in some of the best tunes from the modern era of the musical theatre; despite the flaws I mentioned above. To the former, it may just be the final addition for the Andrew Lloyd Webber collection.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 28 Oct 2009 13:05:45 GMT
"Even though he's British"? What's that got to do with anything?

Posted on 7 Sep 2010 14:36:14 BDT
I enjoyed your review of this item. As a Lloyd Webber fan I appreciate such a detailed review of a must-have collection, such is 'Now and Forever'.

Refering to Patti LuPone as the 'best' Evita is purely personal opinion, since many regard Elaine Paige as the greatest 'Eva' whilst there are those who are utterly faithful to Julie Covington on the original concept album, and Madonna has her fans also. However, I would agree that LuPone is severely under-represented across the five discs, having personally triumphed in bothe Evita and Sunset. I do agree that her performance as Norma Desmond is superior to Glenn Close, but so is Elaine Paige, and there are no Elaine renditions of Sunset on the album at all! Of course, it is Patti who is the star of the Original Cast album and deserves more of a presence in the Sunset selections.

The issue of the Song and Dance selections not coming from the OBC album starring Bernadette Peters is more concerned with the fact that it's not a very good representation of Ms Peter's comedic and dramatic acting. Unfortunately, the OBC album does nothing for the show, and it is a shame that the London production (and Tell Me On A Sunday concept album), as well as Sarah Brightman's 'studio' renderings of the songs are superior to the American recording. I am of course not denying the electricity of Bernadette's live version of Unexpected Song, for example.

I do think, however that there are many points in your review that are accurate, but seasoned with just a little of personal preference. Regardless, this album is a MUST for Lloyd Webber fans, and for anyone interested in Musical Theatre.
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