Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 50th Birthday Celebration

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 50th Birthday Celebration
Royal Albert Hall. The Shows Must Go On Live Stream. Screened May 2 & 3, 2020

Instead of streaming one of his musicals, this past weekend Andrew Lloyd Webber treated musical theatre fans to a 22-year-old 50th birthday celebration concert filmed at London’s historic Royal Albert Hall in 1998. Crammed with musical theatre stars, it was a lavish get-together and a wonderful time-capsule of 90s musical theatre culture. Of course everyone looked and sounded so much younger but the filmed event captured some iconic West End performances.

Opening with Tina Arena singing the title song from Whistle Down The Wind and closing with Lloyd Webber on piano accompanying Lottie Mayor, the original Swallow in that show, with the same tune, the concert featured a cavalcade of hits.

A fresh-faced, very young looking Donny Osmond and groups of kids warbled Joseph’s “Any Dream Will Do” and ”Close Every Door”, Antonio Banderos repeated his Evita movie performance with “Oh, What a Circus” and “High Flying Adored”, whilst Sarah Brightman coupled with him on The Phantom of the Opera’s title song. Brightman also brought her crystalline tones to “Pie Jesu” (with boy soprano Ben De’ath), dueted with Michael Ball on a lovely “All I Ask Of You” and brought some magic to a solo of “The Music of The Night”.

Hollywood star-power in all its glitz was present in Glenn Close’s performance of Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard. Dressed in her ubiquitous Anthony Powell black and gold stage costume and headdress, she searingly and achingly delivered “With One Look” and followed it with an equally passionate “As If We Never Said Goodbye”.

Elaine Paige had her spotlight moment with “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” and “Memory”, both of which received thunderous acclaim.

The score of “Whistle Down The Wind” was heavily represented by Bonnie Tyler with “Tire Tracks and Broken Hearts” assisted by leather-clad chorus boys and girls, boy-power was added by Boyzone singing the show’s hit “No Matter What”, and Michael Ball was in gospel-mode, assisted by a large choir for “The Vaults Of Heaven”.

The concert concluded with Kiri Te Kanawa singing “The Heart Is Slow To Learn”, originally intended for Phantom 2, but used by Lloyd Webber in The Beautiful Game as “Our Kind Of Love” and then finally as the title song of Love Never Dies. Even in this embryonic version the melody still soared.

Anthony Van Last choreographed the show, Michael Reed handled the very large orchestra and David Mallett brought his vast video and concert expertise to the direction. It may have been nostalgic but when the performances were as good as this, it was well worth revisiting.

Peter Pinne

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