The Woman In White Feels Old Before Its Time
If you dissect the elements in Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Woman in White, they're all perfectly fine. Add that Thom Southerland's production at the Charing Cross Theatre flatters the source material with a rich and generous staging, some very lush orchestrations — at times it sounds as though they have the London Philharmonic walled up at the back of the stage instead of a ten-piece band.
The voices, the diction and the sound system are all first-rate, you get every word with clarity, and the acting and staging steer well clear of Victorian melodrama. Anna O'Byrne and Carolyne Maitland's differently wounded sisters are superb, Greg Castiglioni's bombastic comic turn and Chris Peluso's handsome dastardly villain make terrific counterpoints to Ashley Stillburn's sweet and controlled artist-turned-hero. What a great cast.
But it's not enough. Wilkie Collins' admirably creepy 1859 detective story is not refreshed by a skin graft of overwrought ballads and raging anthems with such distinct echoes from Lloyd Webber's back catalogue, while not producing a single distinguished number that survived outside the musical. At times the score sounds like a Josh Groban album, although that's maybe unkind to Mr Groban whose songs at least have identifiable beginnings and ends.
Of course audience tastes change and what ran for a year and a half from 2004 can look past its sell-by date when resurrected in 2017. Fans of the musical theatre genre will admire the technique and the virtuosity of the performances, but you can't hold this old-fashioned composition up against Everybody's Talking About Jamie or An American in Paris and say it's remotely in the same class.
The Woman in White, Charing Cross Theatre, Villiers Street, WC2N 6NL, £19.50-£49.50, Monday-Saturday, Until 10 February
Last Updated 07 December 2017