Holiday auds at Kennedy Center’s Opera House were the first to unwrap a new version of the Andrew Lloyd Webber revue that draws on his impressive songbook, with a handful of polished Broadway veterans on hand to perform.
The upshot is another enjoyable waltz through the Lloyd Webber collection featuring the center’s 32-piece house orch and six stalwarts — Liz Callaway, Rob Evan, Hugh Panaro, Sarah Pfisterer, Alice Ripley and Ray Walker. They cover all the major Lloyd Webber classics, along with some lesser-known selections.
Highlights, naturally, include “Memory” from “Cats,” belted with conviction by Callaway, and an equally earnest perf of “Evita’s” “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” by Ripley. Panaro, Broadway’s current “Phantom,” cuts loose on that show’s title song (with “Phantom” vet Pfisterer) as well as “The Music of the Night.”
Opening with three faves from “Jesus Christ Superstar,” the revue also serves up four selections from “Sunset Boulevard” that include a nice duet of “Too Much in Love to Care” sung by Panaro and Ripley, who performed together on Broadway in “Sideshow.”
Some new material also is introduced. Ripley chirps “Learn to Be Lonely” from the new film version of “Phantom,” joined by two numbers from Lloyd Webber’s latest West End show, “The Woman in White,” sung by Pfisterer and Evan.
Some members of the Washington aud might recall the three selections chosen from “Whistle Down the Wind,” an ill-fated musical that closed in its tryout at the National Theater here in 1996. Walker offers an energetic version of “Vaults of Heaven,” one of that show’s strongest numbers, to end the first act.
The revue is simply and effectively staged, with the center’s excellent Opera House Orchestra, conducted by Edward G. Robinson, planted onstage for full effect. A central staircase allows for the requisite flow and elevation for the big moments, while each show’s logo is flashed on a screen behind when featured.
Granted, an evening devoted exclusively to Lloyd Webber songs drives home the familiar patterns in many of his compositions — the sluggish tempo, the big finish — that detractors brand as synthetic. Some fairly forgettable numbers in the collection would seem to bolster those arguments, such as the anemic “I Believe My Heart” from “Woman in White.” (It also doesn’t help that the vocalists are, with only one exception, tenors and sopranos.)
But so what if many of the songs sound alike? They are mighty nice melodies, after all, many of them instantly recognizable, and in toto sufficiently varied to carry the revue nicely. And there are legions of Lloyd Webber fans just waiting for the experience.