Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber
Musical Director: Michael Reed
Andrew Lloyd Webber had quite a 50th birthday party back in 1998 welcoming not just the great and the good of British musical theatre but also the odd Hollywood star to perform at a celebratory concert, freely available to stream for 48-hours on his YouTube channel The Shows Must Go On. And while the choreography, outfits and haircuts have dated, there is no denying the timeless quality of the talent on offer.
The two hour Andrew Lloyd Webber: The Royal Albert Hall Celebration has no presenter or segue section breaks, it is just song after song after song, structured by show and performed on a thrust stage covered in a pattern of musical score and notes at the Royal Albert Hall. And it is one of the most comprehensive collections of Lloyd Webber’s work that you will find, opening with the all but forgotten Whistle Down the Wind and taking in every key performer and song in his career to date from Jesus Christ Superstar to Starlight Express, from Aspects of Love to Sunset Boulevard.
It is a slow start and while Donny Osmond fills the stage with children for a Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat medley and Julian Lloyd Webber offers an instrumental cello performance, it seems this will be a show to listen to rather than watch, especially as the camera choices prioritise the musical artist at the expense of choreography. Shot positions during Lloyd Webber’s set mean the accompanying ballet sequence is not fully visible to the at home audience – a decision the recurs throughout the concert.
After this, the presentation style starts to vary with the arrival of a costumed crowd to perform the Requiem from Evita and the arrival of Antonio Banderas performing Oh What a Circus and High Flying Adored in character. Banderas is a charismatic performer and back in 1998 still fresh from his success in the 1996 film, he is a big draw here. Singing with Elaine Paige, whose famous rendition of Don’t Cry for Me Argentina is a grandstanding moment, the audience gets a real flavour of the show – and a sad reminder the Barbican has postponed the transfer of last’s year superb Jamie Lloyd revival in Regent’s Park.
As the Celebration unfolds it brings a few enjoyable surprises particularly when Banderas returns to sing as a seductive Phantom alongside Sarah Brightman, a role you wish he could have played in full. Brightman’s duet with Michael Ball (All I Ask for You) is gorgeous before she assumes the role of the Phantom for herself with a rare female performance of Music of the Night. Ball too appears repeatedly throughout the show with a particularly powerful rendition of Gethsemane from Jesus Christ Superstar and his signature tune Love Changes Everything.
Another highlight is Glenn Close’s performance as Norma Desmond, arriving in full character to deliver With One Look and As if We Never Said Goodbye from Sunset Boulevard – a role she reprised at the Coliseum in 2017. Elaborately dressed in her stage costume, Close delivers acres of pathos as her deeply vulnerable but defiant Norma demands to be seen, as does Elaine Page with her intense and dramatic version of Memory from Cats towards the end of the show.
The show certainly grows in confidence and while the film choices take away from the visual impact experienced by those in the Royal Albert Hall, the music selection and quality of performers is just as impressive 22 years later. You may choose to skip through Starlight Express, Whistle Down the Wind and Boyzone, but Lloyd Webber fans will be more than happy to spend two hours immersed in the music of this night.
Streaming here until 3 May 2020