2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars
Lloyd Webber's best show for 20 years, 10 Jun. 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.