EXCLUSIVE: Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Woman in White Will Sing Again in "Chamber Version"
By Kenneth Jones
The Woman in White, the melodrama-steeped London and Broadway musical by composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, lyricist David Zippel and librettist Charlotte Jones, is being streamlined for a new chamber version.
A box-office disappointment in its 2005-06 post-London Broadway engagement, the musical is based on the 1860 Wilkie Collins novel about a dashing young man hired as art tutor to two sisters. On his way to meet them, he is visited by a mysterious and tormented woman in white. He and the sisters find themselves caught in a web of secrets and lies involving an idiosyncratic Italian villain, Count Fosco.
A 2004 London cast album preserves the score. At the time of its Feb. 19, 2006, Broadway closing, after 20 previews and 109 performances, the commercial producers indicated that a "reconfigured" production would be developed to tour the U.K. and U.S. That did not transpire, but the idea of a "chamber" version stuck in the minds of the writers, Zippel told Playbill.com.
The writers met in recent weeks in London to discuss and outline changes to the show. Zippel said that inquiries from U.S. theatres (and the possibility of a U.K. tour) prompted the authors to revisit the material now.
Zippel said he expects the rewrite to be a "principals-only" version with a cast of 9-10 actors rather than the almost 20 in Trevor Nunn's projection-rich original London and Broadway productions. Don't expect a chorus of locals and servants in the script, although a U.K. tour may implement a chorus and use the new script.
In the original, "there were too many epiphanies," Zippel said of the storytelling, adding that the show spent too much time telling more story following a pivotal asylum scene.
"We're trying to streamline the last third of the show," Zippel said. "It's an opportunity to rethink a couple of moments. I'm very excited about it — it will feel very different. Without the chorus, I think it'll focus the relationships, and the melodrama and the emotion will come to the fore."
There will be "a little bit of new material," but at this moment, he said, audiences should not expect a new Zippel-Lloyd Webber showstopper created especially for this version. The song known as "Can't You Find It in Your Heart?/If Not for Me for Her" (heard in the London version and on the cast album) may become "more present" in the score, the lyricist said.
A production-ready new draft of The Woman in White will be created by late 2011.
When he first agreed to write lyrics for the show, Tony Award winner Zippel (City of Angels) was attracted to — and scared by — the idea of working on a through-composed musical, which was new to him at the time. Zippel said, "It's a good story with smart and interesting characters. Andrew called me and asked me to read the [novel], and asked if I would be willing to do it. And Andrew was really excited, so that made me excited."
The London and Broadway production starred Olivier Award-winning actress Maria Friedman as Marian Halcombe. Michael Ball played the obese villain Fosco on Broadway, taking on a role created by Michael Crawford. Librettist Charlotte Jones is the author of the play Humble Boy. Lloyd Webber, of course, wrote some of the most popular musicals in theatre history, including The Phantom of the Opera, Cats, Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita.
The Woman in White was nominated for a 2006 Tony Award for Best Score (Zippel & Lloyd Webber).
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