Ghostly "White" drained of colour

- North Jersey, written by Robert Feldman, 18/11/2005 -


New Broadway musical, at the Marquis Theatre, 211 W. 45th St.

Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Lyrics by David Zippel. Book by Charlotte Jones. Directed by Trevor Nunn.

With Maria Friedman, Michael Ball, Angela Christian, Adam Brazier and Jill Paice.

Schedule: 8 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday and Friday; 2 and 8 p.m. Wednesday and Saturday; 3 p.m. Sunday.

Tickets: $25 to $100. Ticketmaster: (212) 307-4100, or

"The Woman in White," which opened Thursday night at the Marquis Theatre, is Andrew Lloyd Webber's attempt to recapture the soaring, romantic melodrama of his "Phantom of the Opera." But this apple has fallen far from that sturdy tree.

From the moment a young art teacher named Walter Hartright (Adam Brazier) gets off a train at a dark and foggy station in a remote English village and encounters a ghostly young woman in white (Angela Christian), the show works hard to conjure up a mix of gothic evil and grand romance.

Hartright has come to instruct two sisters, Marian (Maria Friedman) and Laura (Jill Paice), in drawing, and he quickly falls in love with the latter. It turns out, however, that she's engaged to Sir Percival Glyde (Ron Bohmer), who is so evil he does everything but twirl his mustache. (His name is sung endlessly in a batty little musical theme.) Glyde's partner in bad business is the rotund Count Fosco (Michael Ball, unrecognizable in a fat suit and heavy makeup).

There's much hugger-mugger involving that woman in white, terrible secrets, dastardly plots, an insane asylum, sleeping |potions and on and on.

Composer Lloyd Webber and his creative colleagues, book writer Charlotte Jones and lyricist David Zippel, deserve credit for their courage in bucking the trend of broad, spoofy musicals and doing a faithful, straight-faced adaptation of Wilkie Collins' Victorian novel of mystery and intrigue.

But try as it might, the show, which stretches out over an ultimately yawning two hours and 45 minutes, just isn't very compelling.

There's a passionate performance by Friedman, who gallantly rejoined the production after recently undergoing breast-cancer surgery, and amusing work by Ball. There's little in the songs, story or staging, however, that gets you to lean forward in your seat in pleasure or excitement.

The musical style is recognizably Lloyd Webber's, in a show in which even the dialogue is largely sung. Anyone, though, looking for the very distinctive, melodic songs of "Phantom" will be disappointed.

With its pretty little themes and swelling crescendos, the music corresponds to the action of the story well, but it's all predictable and rather colorless stuff. You'd be hard-pressed to remember much of it. Things aren't helped by Zippel's insipid lyrics, whose rhymes you can see coming a mile away. It's hard to believe the same man wrote the sharp-witted words for "City of Angels."

Jones lays out the story clearly, but it's hard for a musical, which must stop periodically for characters to sing about their feelings, to sustain the pace needed by a mystery to maintain tension. And "The Woman in White" also takes some very awkward detours.

While director Trevor Nunn has tried to capture old-fashioned, period style, the action is interrupted at one point by villagers doing what seemed to be a hoedown. You just knew it was there because somebody realized the show didn't have much dancing.

And toward the end, Fosco is given a comic number whose tone is jarringly show biz - although the white rat that scampers back and forth across his outstretched arms does provide one of the show's most memorable moments. That song is followed by a seduction scene between Ball and Friedman that looks like it was imported from a comic opera.

The most imaginative thing about "The Woman in White" is the scenery design of William Dudley. It's made up almost entirely of video projections, of everything from the pastoral countryside to vast interiors. They're seen on huge, curved, sliding screens.

Sometimes the projections, the screens and the actors are all moving at the same time, which is kind of dizzying. The eye, though, is invariably drawn to the scenery. It may be flat, and not entirely integrated with the performers, but it's often more interesting than what the actors are doing.

Thanks to Doris for finding and sharing!

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