Andrew Tomlins reviews Andrew Lloyd Webber's new musical Stephen Ward at the Aldwych Theatre.
The final big opening of 2013 is Andrew Lloyd Webber’s new musical Stephen Ward which is about the famous 1963 British political scandal The Profumo Affair. John Profumo, Secretary of State for War, had an affair with a young showgirl Christine Keeler. When the press found out careers damaged and ended, the scandal also led to the suicide of Stephen Ward who introduced Keeler to Profumo.
The Profumo Affair isn’t an obvious choice for an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical and there is nothing similar in the West End. Stephen Ward isn’t your stereotypical family/tourist friendly theatrical experience, but it does provide a fairly interesting evening at the theatre and appeals to those particularly interested in the 1963 scandal.
Lloyd Webber’s score has some great moments. I grew fond of the hauntingly brilliant 'Human Sacrifice' and enjoyed listening to 'You've Never Had It So Good' as well as '1963' which, despite sounding a little dated, is instantly catchy. The sound design compliments the score perfectly; raising the volume throughout the more powerful moments of the score proves rather effective. At first Ward dominates the first few numbers which leads to several songs blurring into one, but the balance improves as the show progresses.
Alexander Hanson gives quite a performance in the title role, giving a strong portrayal and demonstrating sharp vocals. Charlotte Spencer’s vocals may be a little shaky but she doesn’t hold back, her stage presence is powerful. Charlotte Blackledge shines as Mandy Rice-Davies giving a charmingly likeable performance.
The show is stolen by West End regular Joanna Riding (who will next be seen in The Pajama Game at the Shaftesbury Theatre) as John Profumo's wife Valerie Hobson. Riding only has a couple of scenes yet gives the most tremendous performance. Her rendition of 'I'm Hopeless When It Comes To You' is nothing short of world class. She clearly moved the audience as the fairly reserved crowd gave a passionate round of applause after her wonderful number, which should be remembered as a Lloyd Webber classic.
Stephen Ward needs a more central character like Valerie Hobson which the audience can get behind, support and care about. Stephen Ward is shifty and mysterious throughout, Christine Keeler is very manipulative and whilst Mandy Rice-Davies is likeable, she is seemingly capable of looking after herself. The musical isn’t gripping or exciting because it doesn’t connect with the audience, but it still provides an insightful and interesting evening at the theatre.
Stephen Ward features a very strong supporting cast and ensemble, some terrific harmonies are produced. Interestingly the Profumo affair is only a small chunk of the piece, it is the aftermath that follows which takes centre stage. The design isn't overly lavish or ground-breaking, but is fairly neat. The draping curtains which swivel round add an extra layer of mystery to proceedings.
Stephen Ward takes Lloyd Webber in a very different direction so if you're intrigued to see how his style has progressed the show is certainly worth seeing. I have never watched anything like it!
Reviewed by Andrew Tomlins
Stephen Ward is currently booking at the Aldwych Theatre until 1st March 2014