This time around I thought I'd focus on the shows of Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber...well, three of them, and none of them huge hits along the lines of The Phantom of the Opera. Rather, one critical hit, one crowd-pleaser (and underrated in my opinion), and one outright Broadway flop.
Alphabetically, the flop comes first. Aspects of Love, sometimes known as "Webber Tries Sondheim," is one of his more serious attempts at a musical. It is complicated, the score is not easy to digest, either because it is shocking in its repetition ("Love Changes Everything"), because it demands much of its listener (most of the rest of the score), and is rarely catchy (except "Hand Me the Wine and the Dice", perhaps the catchiest funeral song ever written). But what it suffered from most, in my opinion, was that it was waaay over produced - designed like a mega-musical, when it is really a small chamber piece. How does the commercial fare in comparison? I would have probably run to the Broadhurst box office based on that 30 seconds... that last pose is so sexy it is almost uncomfortable. And it actually advertises what the show was. Each scene focuses on a couple, in intimate but lush settings. But audiences then wanted Lloyd Webber spectacles, and between the word of mouth and the ad, people stayed away in droves. Had the musical actually been like the ad - small and romantic - I'd have loved it.
Next up is the crowd-pleaser, Starlight Express, Cats on wheels it was. It was what we expected, and man, we weren't disappointed. The set took up every inch of the Gershwin Theatre, including a good part of the orchestra. Three levels of roller skating space, dazzling scenery, amazing costumes, and funny, clever and very catchy tunes... I loved it. Still do... I probably don't go a month without putting in the London Cast Recording - sounds incredible on headphones. But it was too much, too loud and too Cats for most people, I guess. It could have run for 10 years and still lost money. What about the commercial? It is exciting, fast and loud. It sells the show you get. I saw it three times, so perhaps I'm biased, but the commercial makes me want to call Teletron today!
Finally, my favorite of all his shows - I saw it 8 times on Broadway and once on tour (4 Betty Buckley, 4 Glenn Close and 1 Linda Balgord) - Sunset Boulevard. At times a sweeping, grand movie of a show and at others an intimate piece, it perfectly captured its source, the legendary film of the same title, and added to it everything that the stage can do that a film can't. I remember the audience gasping several times - the opening scene where we are the bottom of the pool looking up at Joe Gillis' floating body, the scene where the audience is the screen and we can see Norma acting out the movie, and the end where a crazed Norma address "all the people in the dark" as a silent film of her as a young girl rolls behind her. It is also the only show I've been to where the set actually deserved the applause it got; watching the entire mansion float down from the sky was astonishing each time it happened. But what about the commercial? Well here are two for one: The first, for Broadway, shows us the show from Norma's point of view. Very effective, as the whole world is from Norma's point of view, seeing only the grandeur of the movies and her life. What is cool is that it looks like could have been filmed at Paramount Studios, and when you get to the theatre that is really what you see. The second is for the Petula Clark tour. This commercial is maybe even more effective, as it is done in the style of old movie previews with the sexy and mysterious score playing while we see all the passion and intrigue of the story and Norma Desmond. And I love how the logo comes up and a shadow of a gun comes up. I would buy even more tickets based on this ad!
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