PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Dec. 14-20: Drama in the West End and The Iceman Cometh to Play BAM

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20 Dec 2013

Charlotte Spencer and Alexander Hanson
Charlotte Spencer and Alexander Hanson
Photo by Nobby Clark

While Broadway bigwigs took off to holiday on sunny beaches and in snowy chalets, leaving Times Square to the tourists, London provided a bit of excitement for the theatre world. The Aldwych Theatre played host to the opening of the latest musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Stephen Ward, which was officially unveiled Dec. 19.

The show is named after a historical character. Never heard of Ward? That's OK. He's a bit of a footnote, actually, but a titillating one. Ward was a society osteopath whose star rose and fell quite dramatically in Britain the early 60s. He was a key character in the Profumo Affair, a sex scandal that brought down the Conservative government of the time. Ward was later made a scapegoat and died in what was called a suicide on the last day of his trial, in which he was charged with procuring prostitutes for politicians.

Reviews of the production were mixed. A recurring theme was that, for a musical about a sex scandal, Stephen Ward wasn't very exciting.

"With such experienced heavy-hitters behind it, Stephen Ward is inevitably a handsomely mounted production that motors along with the fine-tuned precision of a vintage Bentley," wrote Hollywood Reporter. "Featuring a brief flash of female nudity, some four-letter lyrics and even a riotous orgy, the mise-en-scene is risque by Lloyd Webber's standards. But the show is otherwise fairly staid and conventional, relying heavily on stereotypical depictions of the uptight English, perennially obsessed with class and sex, fatally torn between prudishness and prurience. For these reasons, this polished mix of bedroom farce and courtroom tragedy may prove too parochial for foreign audiences and international transfers."

Variety asked, "Here's the mystery surrounding Andrew Lloyd Webber's new tuner 'Stephen Ward': How could the fallout from Britain's most notorious real-life sex-and-politics scandal have been turned into something so flaccid?" The Guardian, meanwhile, said, "Much as I admire the musical's good intentions and professional skill, Lloyd Webber's instinctive romanticism sits oddly with a social and political critique... if the show is intended as a blistering attack on the British Establishment's victimisation of Stephen Ward, it is only partly successful."

One of the more positive notices came from the Telegraph, which wrote, "Since he parted company with Tim Rice, Andrew Lloyd Webber's musicals have hardly been famous for their wit... So his new musical about the Profumo affair comes as a delightful surprise... there is also a sense of mischief about the piece, that finds this sometimes po-faced composer coming up with numbers in a rich variety of styles, so that the familiar yearning anthems are interspersed with songs of wit and fun. Several of the tunes are instantly catchy too."


On the night Stephen Ward opened, another sort of drama was playing out elsewhere in the West End.


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