Charlotte Jones has skillfully combined Andrew Lloyd Webber’s soaring music and the dexterous lyrics of David Zippel to navigate the plot twists of Wilkie Collins’ psychological thriller. Hardly any dialogue is necessary as the operatic singing is cleverly employed to convey the thoughts and feelings of each character, and to move the story along. It is a pleasure to see that the musical remains true to the spirit, and the main storyline, of the novel. The Woman in White musical highlights the key themes of Collins’ Victorian novel; depicting how women and their assets became the property of their husbands as soon as they married. The musical does not shrink from how the novel pulled back the curtain to reveal how some Victorian husbands married for money and abused their wives with impunity. The novel deals with a serious social issue which, unfortunately, still exists today. The psychological abuse of some women by some men and the physical and emotional abuse of some wives by some husbands are treated more explicitly in the musical than in the novel. In the novel, Sir Percival Glyde’s physical abuse of Laura is implied by his gaslighting/emotional abuse of Laura and Anne. This is in addition to his mistreatment of Anne. Sir Percival Glyde’s vicious beating of the spaniel in the novel heavily hints at his propensity for physical violence against women. In the musical Sir Percival Glyde is physically violent towards Laura and Marian, in action as well as in words; this is extremely effective but is never over the top.
One reason why The Woman in White is one of my favourite novels, which is reflected in this musical, is the character development of the main female characters. At first, it appears that the female protagonists are passive victims of Sir Percival Glyde’s physical and psychological abuse. However, as the story progresses each of the women bravely and persistently pushes back against Sir Percival Glyde’s tyranny. Both the novel and the musical depict these women as survivors who heroically take on the powerful bully, Sir Percival Glyde. The realistic character development of the male protagonists, particularly Sir Percival Glyde and Count Fosco, which was well written by Collins, is aptly acted, respectively, by Chris Peluso and Greg Castiglioni in this wonderful musical interpretation; they are definitely not pantomime villains.
Right from the start, the operatic style brings us straight to the heart of the novel. I enjoyed all of the musical numbers, my highlights were numerous. “Trying Not to Notice” performed by Carolyn Maitland as Marian Halcombe, Ashley Stillburn as Walter Hartright and Anna O’Byrne as Laura Fairlie; they sing gorgeous harmonies rising to a clear high note at the end. I was delighted by the lovely solos and note-perfect duet in “I Believe My Heart” sung by O’Byrne and in Stillburn’s sweet tenor. “Perspective” is very humorous and is sung beautifully by the trio Maitland, O’Byrne and Stillburn. “A Gift for Living Well,” performed by Greg Castiglioni as a flirtatious and charming Count Fosco, has the underlying menace of the Count, ending verses on show-stopping, high notes. Another favourite of mine is “You Can Get Away with Anything” deftly acted and sung in Act 2 by Castiglioni, it is funny and jaunty, with excellent top notes. “The Seduction” adroitly changes the mood from comedy, when begun by Marian, to ending threateningly when the Count seizes Marian by the throat. The feelings expressed by Laura and Marian in “If I Could Only Dream This World,” seem authentic, their duet is beautiful. O’Byrne has a great vocal range, with sweet and sustained top notes. Maitland as Marian reveals how full of regret and despair she is at driving Walter out of Laura’s life in her sensitively sung “If Not For Me For Her.” In the same number Marian shows her resourcefulness and courage. “All for Laura” is another intelligent number, starting as a loving tribute it develops into a presentation of Sir Percival Glyde’s cruelty and abusive behaviour when Laura sings "I will show you how he loves me, his love is on display, a mark for every day." Anne, finely acted by Sophie Reeves, is another of the Collins’ heroines. She is The Woman in White who courageously escapes several times from the asylum where Sir Percival Glyde has kept her imprisoned. Anne bravely informs Walter of her plight in a powerful voice full of anger and despair in “You See I’m Not a Ghost.” And also at great personal risk, she warns Marian about Sir Percival Glyde’s real intentions in “All for Laura.”
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical adaptation of The Woman in White, directed by Thom Southerland, has all the mystery, suspense and romance of Collins’ novel. By exploiting the clever and witty lyrics and expressive music, Charlotte Jones’ book conjures up some of the realities of Victorian life, and a whole range of emotions, all expertly performed by a talented cast.
The Woman in White at the Charing Cross Theatre has a strictly limited 12 week run. Book The Woman in White tickets now to avoid disappointment.