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ITV celebrates Andrew Lloyd Webber – but where was the musical theatre talent?

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When ITV announced Andrew Lloyd Webber – 40 Musical Years, the composer himself was quoted as saying:

I was flattered when ITV approached me about a 90-minute special, but I said I would only do it if it wasn’t some po-faced tribute to a bloke who’s about to collect his bus pass.  I also said it must include the wet sari number from Bombay Dreams.

Apart from making him sound a little bit pervy, the statement also seems to be missing the words “and some of the top performers that have graced my shows over the last four decades”.

Because what this show, which was broadcast over Easter, lacked was any of the talented performers who have helped shape his productions and define them just as much as his music has.

[pullquote]I can’t abide Mel C’s breathy, whiny voice so the less said about her performance as Mary Magdalene the better[/pullquote]

No Elaine Paige/ Elena Roger singing from Evita, no Jason Donovan/ Lee Mead singing something from Joseph, no Paul Nicholas/Steve Balsamo recreating scenes from Jesus Christ Superstar, no Marti Webb singing Take That Look Off Your Face, no Michael Crawford or Sarah Brightman singing from Phantom. I could go on and on, but you get the idea.

Instead we got Nicole Scherzinger singing Don’t Cry for Me Argentina – except she decided this should be Argenthina, apparently for authenticity (though how you can get more authentic than Argentinean performer Elena Roger – who has played Eva on both Broadway and in the West End – I will never know).

And then we had Kimberley Walsh (seriously, someone needs to ban this woman from musical theatre) singing Take That Look Off Your Face with Denise Van Outen. I don’t have anything against Van Outen but her duet with Walsh was excruciating – especially when producers decided the number should become a homage to Strictly Come Dancing halfway through. Hello! We’re here to celebrate Lloyd Webber. Next!

I can’t abide Mel C’s breathy, whiny voice so the less said about her performance as Mary Magdalene the better, though the worst for me was Myleene Klass, who fulfilled Lloyd Webber’s wish of having the wet sari scene from Bombay Dreams. But why? I don’t recall Klass having performed in this musical. Or in any musical for that matter. One word: embarrassing.

So it was left to Sierra Boggess, Michael Ball, Heather Headley and Samantha Barks to inject some musical theatre talent in to the proceedings. And Sierra stole the show, singing beautifully from Phantom. Headley, although I like her, wasn’t a great match for Memory from Cats, it has to be said. She pulled some questionable faces too. I think she was channeling Norma Desmond for most of it, and, really, it should have been given to Elaine Paige to sing. Instead, she was featured momentarily on pre-recorded footage, while Sarah Brightman, the reason why Phantom exists, was given nothing more than a passing reference by Lloyd Webber.

In short, I found the show insulting to the performers who have made Lloyd Webber’s shows the successes they are. Okay, I am sure there were valid reasons why some of those on my wish list weren’t included – availability/ didn’t want to –  and I also know ITV has to consider its viewers and what will make the show appeal to a wider audience. But the line-up we were presented with was embarrassing, in my opinion. And failed to genuinely reflect Lloyd Webber’s 40 years in musicals.

Maybe they can get it right when we celebrate his 50 years in the business.

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