ReDISCoveries: The Woman in White
(Original Cast Recording, Disc Two)
Jeff has kindly invited me to revisit and review some of the older cast recordings in my collection. Every other week or so, I’ll write about a new CD, offering some general impressions followed by my thoughts about each individual song. This week’s entry continues with Disc Two of the 2004 Original London Cast Recording of The Woman in White, with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, lyrics by David Zippel, and book by Charlotte Jones.
Lloyd Webber’s music for this show is probably closest in style and structure to Aspects of Love - my favorite score of his, which I will address in a future entry! - but it differs in some ways, and suffers somewhat by comparison. While both scores are mostly sung-through and are built up of melodies associated with the various characters and relationships, these tend to be quite short and light in Aspects but longer and more ponderous in The Woman in White. To some extent this fits the tone of the show, but it means that the pacing is often unnecessarily slow.
The musicalization of throwaway conversations in Aspects of Love seems more tolerable because the score always moves on to something new in a minute or two, but here there are definitely things that could better be handled by dialogue. This is especially true near the beginning of Act Two, where some complicated plotting and scheming takes up too much time; it could probably be dealt with more clearly and in a third the time with a book scene or two. The composer also tends to dwell for quite a while on his favorite melodies from the show, which slows things down even further. Those melodies, though, are usually quite lovely, so the recording is still largely a pleasant listen.
Zippel’s lyrics are a mostly effective mixed bag. He’s usually worked on musicals that contain a great deal of irony and humor, which this show mostly lacks, and it shows. The comic songs for Count Fosco (one in each act) are a good fit, with some clever wordplay, but elsewhere some silliness occasionally breaks through that doesn’t really fit with the tone of the show (I cited a few instances of this in the review of Disc One). David Cullen’s orchestrations are extremely lush, as expected from his previous collaborations with Lloyd Webber, and definitely contribute to the listening experience. (Somewhat unusually, the 14-piece ensemble has two each of violas and cellos but no violins.)
In the Second Act, Walter and Marian learn that Laura (his beloved and her sister) has been killed by her greedy husband Percival Glyde. They hatch a plan to rescue the title woman Anne from an asylum and together expose his crimes. Spoiler alert: they discover Laura in the asylum, Glyde having actually killed Anne, leading to a bittersweet denouement where the reunited lovers and sister avenge their friend’s death.
I use a star (*) to mark the songs I particularly like, and my overall favorite gets two
stars (**). Most tracks include some recitative or mini-songs before and/or after the main song, if there is one. (This recording really should have been broken up into more tracks.)
If I Could Only Dream This World Away: This is one of only four true songs in the act; unlike in the first act, which was full of ensemble numbers, all of these songs are solos. The rest of the material in the act is made up of recitative and musical snippets, all cobbled together from music heard in the first act. Here, Laura (Jill Paice) sings in a melancholy but energetic fashion about her current situation, living as the basically imprisoned wife of a man who, as her sister Marian (Maria Friedman) has learned, wants to kill her for her money.
The Nightmare: Marian’s hellish dream features twisted versions of songs from earlier in the show, as well as shouts and screams, which we know are the actual sounds of Laura arguing frantically with Glyde, her husband (Oliver Darley).
Fosco Tells of Laura’s Death/The Funeral/London: The title of this track says it all: lots of plot being worked out through lots of music, reflecting thematically related material from earlier in the show. First, Count Fosco (Michael Crawford) tells Marian that her sister has died in an accident but that he is there to help her if she needs anything. Next, at Laura’s funeral, Glyde tries to get her uncle Mr. Fairlie (Edward Petherbridge) to sign over her inheritance to him, but he is put off for now. Finally, we see Walter (Martin Crewes) scraping by in London as an impoverished artist; he learns through gossip that Laura has been killed.
Evermore Without You: In the second solo of the act, Walter wonders how he will live the rest of his life without Laura. As with Laura’s song at the start of the act, this song - with two big endings - gives the performer a great opportunity to show off his vocal talents, but the melody is more wistful than mournful, and seems a little too hopeful for the tragic moment. (Or is it?)
Lost Souls: Marian goes to London to find Walter. The music here seems like a pale reflection of the Bedlam scene from Sweeney Todd, and is a little too modern-musical-sounding compared to the rest of the score.
**If Not For Me For Her: Having found Walter, she begs him to forget her earlier subterfuge and help her avenge Laura’s death in the third song of the act. I really like this simple, Puccini-like aria, but it was cut for the New York production. Dramatically that was probably a wise move, but it leaves the second act with that much less new music, and I’m glad it made it on the recording.
Walter agrees to help her. They make a plan to visit Count Fosco, who knows where the title woman in white, Anne (Angela Christian), has been institutionalized. After rescuing her, the three of them will expose Glyde using information Anne had previously claimed to have about his crimes.
*You Can Get Away With Anything: In London, Count Fosco prepares to escape with the money he has made helping Glyde, but first takes a moment to gloat over his amorality in this long comic song. It’s a nice Italianate waltz with some clever lyrics (“But you can’t get away with anything/if you don’t get away”), but it mainly serves as an accompaniment to Crawford’s physical comedy involving his pet rats (played by real ones on stage). Beating out Walter’s song above, Fosco/Crawford gets not two but three virtuoso endings to his song, the final one with another clever, meta lyric: “As long as one is leaving anyway/then leave them wanting more!”
The Seduction: Marian arrives at Fosco’s house and plays on his pride and libido to persuade him to let her stay the night. The music here is an extended version of a fairly delicious tango-like melody that we heard when the two first met in the first act. Marian successfully finds out where Anne is being held and then tells Fosco she’s changed her mind.
The Asylum: Arriving at the asylum where they believe Anne is being held, they instead find Laura, who explains that Glyde killed Anne and buried her in a grave marked with Laura’s name. The three of them vow to push on and achieve justice for Anne’s death.
Back to Limmeridge: Returning to Marian and Laura’s childhood home, they confront their uncle with everything they know about Glyde. He tells them that Anne was Laura’s half-sister (various characters have already noticed throughout the show that they look alike), and that Glyde has forced him to sign over the estate and is leaving town.
Finale: Finding Glyde at the train stop where Walter first met Anne at the beginning of the show, Laura pretends to be Anne and tricks Glyde into confessing that he raped her and drowned their child before revealing her true identity. She, Walter, and Marian threaten to expose him; he tries to kill Laura, but is abruptly hit by a train and dies, fulfilling the Signal-man’s (Vincent Pirillo) first-act prophecy to Walter. In a final, rather poetic scene, Walter and Laura have gone off to live as husband and wife; Marian, left alone, visits Anne’s grave and sees a mason replacing Laura’s name with Anne’s on the gravestone.
I know I haven’t said much about the music for the tail end of the show; it doesn’t feature any new tunes, but a steady stream of the show’s earlier themes. It’s so dense and comes so quickly that a fair analysis of it would require quite a bit more effort than I’m willing to put in, but it would be interesting to see how each snippet matches up with its previous appearances in the score. (It’s something I did, a long time ago, with the far more supple score for Aspects of Love.) One thing that is notable is the apt use of romantic themes from early in the first act to characterize Walter’s feelings for both Marian (“Trying Not To Notice”) and Laura (“I Believe My Heart”), and their collective nostalgia for the time all spent together (“Perspective”).
Bonus Track: Count Fosco’s song “You Can Get Away With Anything” is the only one from this opening-night performance that had to be completely re-recorded because of stage and audience noise, so the live version is included as a bonus. Playing to an audience, Crawford’s performance is definitely a bit juicier in places, but with its pauses and restarts I can see why the creators wanted to preserve a cleaner version for posterity.
Next up: the 1994 Broadway re-recording of Kander and Ebb’s Kiss of the Spider Woman.