Lloyd Webber's Woman is latest love

- New York Post by Clive Barnes, 18/11/2005-

WE'VE heard about leaving the theater humming the scenery, but people at Andrew Lloyd Webber's "The Woman in White," which opened last night at the Marquis, will probably leave buzzing about the video projections.

This despite Lloyd Webber's best score since "Aspects of Love," and a splendid cast headed by Maria Friedman.

Make no mistake about it: This is a thrilling musical with a weirdly engrossing tale full of artifice and spine-chiller twists.

Yet it's the look of "The Woman in White" that's revolutionary, transforming a might-see into a must-see.

Designer William Dudley and director Trevor Nunn have come up a masterful projected background that's a breakthrough in epic-style staging, combining the live impact of the stage with the freedom of the screen in a way that's almost dizzying.

Wilkie Collins' famous genre piece is a great choice for Lloyd Webber's style of pop-operatic romanticism; from it, playwright Charlotte Jones has carved a coherent story out of the rambling original.

The mystery itself remains intact. Its young artist hero Walter (Adam Brazier) encounters a strange, wraithlike "woman in white" named Anne Catherick (Angela Christian). There follows odd shenanigans surrounding the marriage of Laura Fairlie (Jill Paice) in the spooky house where Walter has been hired to give painting lessons to her and her shalf-sister, Marian (Friedman), the story's true heroine.

Lloyd Webber's love of Victoriana is given untrammeled play, with luscious melodies and tunes that sound as if they came from the Anglican hymnal and English folksong. Some will find it somber and sentimental; others will mock his operatic use of interweaving themes as repetitive.

Yet, thanks to Nunn's sharp eye and steadying hand, it worked for me.

Also helping matters are Dudley's designs, Jones' niftily tailored book (David Zippel's occasionally trite lyrics are a lesser matter) and a wonderful cast.

Friedman grabs hold of her role with passion and a richly emotive voice. A magnificent Michael Ball, playing against type and in a Michelin-sized fat suit, brings a comic suavity to the oily Count Fosco. As for that live white rat cavorting around him, I wonder: Should there be a Tony for Performing Animals?

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