Now it’s Betty Buckley’s turn to star in this Canadian production of a concert of Andrew Lloyd Webber hits, replacing original headliner Colm Wilkinson for at least part of its U.S. premiere tour. It may not have been her smartest career move: “Andrew Lloyd Webber: Music of the Night” does not present her with the loving care called for.
Scott Ellis is credited with having directed the show, but there’s little evidence of it. Set designer Tony Walton and costume designer William Ivey Long don’t cover themselves with glory either. Which leaves Buckley out on a limb.
The stage is dominated by the 34-piece orchestra and the risers on which it sits. Backed by the cliche of a starry-sky scrim, the set is divided into three sections by two narrow, steep, utilitarian-looking flights of stairs down which entrances always look awkward and uneasy.
Buckley’s first entrance is made even more unfortunate by the tarty, short-skirted suit she wears, something even the young Evita would have spurned. Other costumes are little better.
Buckley’s singing, though it has strength and leading-lady quality, often sounds hard. She’s also lost poignance in her signature tune “Memory,” belting rather than caressing it. There’s no doubt that Buckley could be a suitable headliner in this production, but she needs more support from others — and herself.
In addition to the highly efficient big band backing her, athletically conducted at the reviewed performance by Richard Oberacher, Buckley is surrounded by 10 or so mostly young singers and dancers, most of whom get a moment in the spotlight. The title song, in fact, goes to John Herrera, who does it proud. Then there’s Tonya Dixon, who is particularly bouncy in “You Made Me Think You Were in Love” from “Song & Dance”; soprano Jill Patton, who projects sweetness but is out of her league in the high tessitura of “Pie Jesu” from Webber’s “Requiem”; and D. Michael Heath, a better singer than dancer, temporarily replacing Kevin R. Wright.
The others in the cast sing well (the show is best when the ensemble warbles together) and cope with the mundane choreography. The production covers most of Webber’s output with the exceptions of his first musical, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” and his latest, “By Jeeves.” Some are presented as integrated medleys from one particular musical, others blend songs from several musicals.
The orchestrations and arrangements make the music sound as varied in tone, rhythm and approach as possible, the show clearly revealing the influence of pop songs from different decades on Webber’s output (none the worse for that). It also makes clear that while he may be the Cecil B. DeMille of today’s musical theater, the only good lyricist he’s ever worked with was T.S. Eliot. Martin Levan’s massive sound system, with dozens of speakers surrounding the stage, actually allows for subtlety and clarity, not necessarily a plus where most of the lyrics are concerned.
“Andrew Lloyd Webber: Music of the Night” isn’t a cheap show, and audiences aren’t being short-changed. But it does need polishing and a certain amount of rethinking to live up to potential.