Charing Cross Theatre, London – until 10 February 2018
The trouble with The Woman in White is that if you dissect the elements Andrew Lloyd Webber fused into the show, they’re all perfectly fine. You could also add that Thom Southerland’s production flatters the source material with a rich and generous staging and 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 Carolyn 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, banal recitative 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.