Anyone who tends to suffer from motion or seasickness would be well advised to take half a Drammamine before seeing A Woman in White . William Dudley's animated scenery changes and circles around the large Marquis stage at a nonstop, dizzying pace. A street scene in which the sidewalk moves from shop to shop, villagers dance as the street swirls all around them. Though I eventually adjusted to the video game-like animations, I felt slightly nauseated during some of the busiest scenes created by Dudley's combination of modern software technology and the Victorian toy technology of the Zoetrope (an optical toy, in which figures are made to revolve on the inside of a cylinder to be viewed through slits in its circumference and appear like a single figure passing through a series of natural motions).
The above notwithstanding, I was as dazzled as dizzied by this filmic stagecraft which makes A Woman In White visually unique even if the music is so typical of Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber's soaring poperatic style that you know it can't end without a gasp-inducing chandelier moment. And, thanks to Dudley's inventiveness, that drop dead moment arrives as expected -- this time in the form of a speeding train that makes short shrift of the show's dastardly villain, Sir Percy Glyde, and seems to speed straight into the audience. A real jump-out-of-your-seat finale (or almost finale, since it's followed by a tamer happy ensemble epilogue).
I was not really bothered by having the technical innovations keep the viewer more distanced than engaged in the story, as was the case for our London reviewer, for I've yet to see an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical that is deeply felt rather than a handy hook on which to hang his brand of soaring poperatic arias. As Wilkie Collins's novel is recognized as an archetype for today's more sophisticated thrillers, this technically sophisticated presentation of the hokey Victorian melodrama may be just the thing to appeal to young video game-geared audiences hooked on video gaming.
For me, the constantly changing animated scenery kept my mind from wandering from the never very scary damsels in distress saga which in its best moments struck me as a hilarious spoof of a penny dreadful. The best of those moments involve the chief villain Sir Percy Glyde's rotund, aide-de-camp, Count Fosco; notably, when he sings "A Gift for Living Well" with a scene-stealing white rat running up and down his arm and in his seduction scene with the gutsy heroine, Marian Halcombe.
For Sir Lloyd Webber fans (and you have only to see the lines snaking around the long-running Phantom of the Opera to appreciate the size of this constituency) any new show with his imprimatur is a not to be ignored summons to the popera king's throne where they'll most likely lap up the musical bits and pieces lifted by the composer from his songbook (To underscore its operatic aspirations, the Woman In White program song list omits the singers, as is typical for operas but not musicas). Some may even recognize the homages to other prestigious composers, my own favorite, the Gilbert and Sullivan-à-la-Webber numbers.
Except for several cast changes and some song list additions and deletions this Woman in White , is much the same production Lizzie Loverige wrote about last year. I therefore refer you to her review for the performance, choreography and plot details, as well as a picture of the mysterious title character..
Maria Friedman, who has become an off as well as on stage heroine by resuming her role as Marian Halcombe immediately after first stage breast cancer surgery, is a charismatic musical star whose popularity in London is richly deserved. The performers reprising their London roles again sing beautifully, as does the entire ensemble.
People who know Michael Ball as a handsome, matinee idol type musical star will be amazed at how easily and with what brio he's slipped into the comically villainous Count Fosco's fat suit. Ball, who replaced Michael Crawford just a few weeks after the London opening, has previously starred in a musical with Ms. Friedman but in that show, Stephen Sondheim's Passion , she was Fosca and he the unattainable object of her affections.
Ron Bohmer one of the many American musical performers to have done stints in Phantom of the Opera , is charmingly evil and is in fine voice as Sir Percival Glyde, the charming aristocrat who turns out to be a greedy monster with a heart of stone. Adam Brazier is an attractive Walter Hartright. The scene in which he tries to stop the wedding of Laura Holcombe and Sir Percival, is more than a little reminiscent of the wedding scene in Jane Eyre .
While the London critics, including ours, weren't ecstatic about this show, it's still running in the West End, currently starring Ruthie Henshall. It also ended up being nominated for five Olivier Awards. The novel by Wilkie Collins, which was narrated by the artist Walter Hartwright and various other characters instead of being told mostly through him and the two sisters, was published in 1860. Like Dickens' novels, initially as a newspaper serial. It has never been out of print. However, it is out of copyright so, if you're inclined to read all or some of the 40 chapters as written by Collins, here's a link to The Woman In White text