Michael Ball's villainy dominates the stage in 'Woman in White'
- Daily Record by Kathy Shwiff, 18/11/2005 -
"The Woman in White," a new musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber, has an outsized villain marvelously played by Michael Ball.
The highlight of the show, which opened Thursday night, for me came midway through Act II as Ball sang "You Can Get Away With Anything" and a large white rat ran back and forth across his shoulders and outstretched arms.
Whether that animal trick, or the exaggerated character of Count Fosco, fits into the musical based on the 1860 novel by Wilkie Collins is questionable.
The other characters wear colorful period costumes, but Ball, who starred in many of Webber's shows in London as well as "Aspects of Love" on Broadway, is the only one who appears to be wearing a mask as well as substantial padding.
Fosco is an Italian doctor who helps his English friend Sir Percival Glyde steal the fortune of Glyde's bride and worse.
He's also a potential suitor of Marian Halcombe, sister of Glyde's bride, who realizes too late what Glyde has planned.
Halcombe is played by Maria Friedman, a Webber regular in London who is making her Broadway debut.
She has a strong voice, and she's convincing as a woman determined to see justice done even in an unjust world where she has no money or power.
Collins' novel is a mystery set in the misty English countryside, and the show builds limited suspense before spilling the secrets of its characters.
The use of movie-like projections on curved screens, as well as on cutouts of trees and gravestones, allows the audience to see sweeping vistas and the size of the country homes they inhabit.
But the projections are no match for actual scenery, especially when Friedman mimics hanging onto a wall overhang. And the backgrounds are sometimes blurry, especially in scenes set in confined spaces.
Webber's soaring music, often played quite loudly, sounds familiar after "The Phantom of the Opera,""Jesus Christ Superstar,""Starlight Express" and others. But Fosco's song as he packs for his escape and the lovers' ballad, "I Believe My Heart," are quite nice.
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