Theatre Review: Music Of The Night – Spinning That Webber, Or A Set From The Stage

February 28, 2022

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Music Of The Night / Musical director: Clifford Cooper / Centurion Theatre, Pretoria


As a composer, Andrew Lloyd Webber is not to everyone’s taste, but he is an excellent choice for a cabaret-style ensemble show because of a something his body of work as a whole is responsible for. Consider the way that the Disney logo at the beginning of a film creates, for fans of that company’s iconic releases, a sense of the magic that is to come in the next couple of hours. The same sense of nostalgic expectation is evoked by overture that kicks off Music Of The Night – a melange of snippets from blockbusters from Phantom Of The Opera and Cats to Jesus Christ Superstar, Sunset Boulevard and others – and it’s impossible (particularly after a pandemic period in which big musicals have been kept off stages) to not feel excited for what is to come.

The Centurion Theatre stage is fairly narrow, and with Clifford Cooper on piano on one side and the band he leads – bass, guitar and drums – spread out across the width of the space, along with a couple of stools for the singers on either side, the singers, particularly the ladies in their gorgeous dresses, need to constantly be aware of their surroundings as they perform. The format of the show, which sees cast members briefly relate facts about different parts of Lloyd Webber’s storied career (including the less savoury bits) in between longer sections of music, often featuring soloists or duos, means that it’s not often that everyone is on stage at the same time, though they have a lot of good-natured fun when they do.

Producer Colin Law has cannily put a cast together from different parts of the entertainment industry, bringing in Craig Urbani and Carly Graeme from musical theatre, Stephanie Baartman from television and father and daughter Adrian and Emma-Jean Galliard, well-known for their YouTube collaborations (these are obviously broad strokes – all the performers have and do appear on a wide range of platforms). The resulting range of performance styles adds to the appeal of the show, as do the narrated notes about the different lyricists who worked with Lloyd Webber along the way.

Urbani is charming and funny, looking totally relaxed, even when one of the stools has the temerity to get in his way during a transition. One of the show’s highlights is his bawdy reading of King Herod’s Song from Jesus Christ Superstar, while his duetting with his colleagues keeps them on his toes. Graeme, looking fantastic in glittering outfits, is stylish and confident, with her version of Don’t Cry For Me Argentina as good as any audience is likely to hear. Baartman has a stellar, classic soul voice – think Patti LaBelle or Gladys Knight – and an impish attitude to go with it, plus the chops to pull off a diamond-sharp key change without backing when there is a slight glitch in the band’s timing and she has to take matters in hand. The Galliards are a little and (very) large duo – Adrian is a long way over six feet tall and Emma-Jean is a slim 13-year-old – but their songs together are touching for more than their obvious familial affection. Adrian has a smooth, warm vocal tone and Emma-Jean easily holds her own in terms of both the power and clarity of her singing.

With its initial preparations interrupted a couple of times by changing lockdown regulations and other factors, there are occasional suggestions that the singers and the band will gel more completely as this new show progresses. But already, it is an entertaining, cheerful piece that will please fans of both theatre and popular music.

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