Friday, 5 August 2016

CD Review: Stephen Ward (2013 Original Cast Recording)

“Part of me is saying I should go”

Like many others, I imagine, I did not leave Stephen Ward thinking I particularly want to hear this score by Andrew Lloyd Webber again anytime soon and so three years later, this is the first time I’ve revisited this musical. And as the strange melody of opening number ‘Human Sacrifice’ started, I began to wonder if I’d been overly harsh, Alexander Hanson’s story-telling experience imbuing this prologue of sorts with real interest and setting me up for a potential reimagining of my opinion.

But then track number 2 ‘Super Duper Hula Hooper’ kicks in, that title makes me die a little inside every time I hear it, and you soon begin to realise why the show barely managed 4 months in the West End. Lloyd Webber may have been a teenager in the 60s but he’s looking back at them like a man in his sixties, the air of rose-tinted corrective lenses and musical tweeness proving fatal to conjuring any kind of authentic sense of the period.

And once you start to realise that the majority of the song-writing is necessarily preoccupied with giving us the background information on the Profumo scandal on which the show is based – ‘Manipulation’ is literally nothing more than a dramatis personae, you see why Stephen Ward was always headed for an early bath. Then again, if it’s songs that sound like they were cut from Evita (‘You’ve Never Had It So Good), you could be in for a treat.

Hanson tries his best but Ward remains a cypher pretty much throughout, Charlotte Spencer and Charlotte Blackridge are ill-served as dancers Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies who are never allowed to be dark enough, and Joanna Riding provides the recording with its one stand-out moment of Lloyd Webber magic in ‘I’m Hopeless When It Comes To You’ but it’s far too little, far too late.


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