As soon as the first notes of the entrancing acapella introduction to The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber were sung, I could feel a rush of emotion.
Not just because of the stunning vocal harmonies, but also because this was my first visit to Curve since before the lockdown began in early 2020.
I’m sure it was the same for most people in the audience, as this concert production is the first Made at Curve show created for a live audience since 2019.
It seems fitting that the re-opening concert, directed by Curve’s artistic director Nikolai Foster, is celebrating the music and career of legendary composer and musical theatre impresario Andrew Lloyd Webber, who has not only been responsible for thrilling theatre audiences for decades, but has, over the last 15 months, been a leading figure in the fight for the survival of the theatre industry.
Like many musicians, and indeed fans of musicals, I’ve been immersed in the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber from an early age, and always loved performing his songs, as well as listening to them.
From The Phantom of the Opera to Cats, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat to Starlight Express, the prolific composer has been behind many of theatre’s most successful musicals.
Now, for the next 10 days, you can enjoy many of his unforgettable songs being performed ‘in the round’ by an array of talent from the world of theatre.
This includes Ria Jones, Karen Mavundukure, Jessica Daley and Madalena Alberto – who have all previously appeared at Curve – along with Shem Omari James, Tim Rogers and Tim Howar.
Together, they make a splendid septet, with each of their voices being effectively showcased throughout the production, which features a well-chosen selection of songs spanning musical genres from gospel to rock, opera to pop.
We heard some incredible renditions, including I Don’t Know How To Love Him, performed by Karen Mavundukure, who had injured her leg and was therefore using a wheelchair.
Despite singing from a sitting position, which is not easy, she gave a beautiful, controlled performance of this song from Jesus Christ Superstar. I was also wowed by her vocal techniques in the gospel-style Light At The End Of The Tunnel from Starlight Express.
Madalena Alberto took on the role of Eva Peron, performing numbers from Evita including the upbeat Latin song Buenos Aires, and the emotional anthem Don’t Cry For Me Argentina, which was one of my highlights, thanks to Madalena’s powerful vocals, along with some delightful flute playing in the accompaniment.
Unexpected Song was another highlight, and aptly demonstrated the incredible range of Jessica Daley, covering two and a half octaves. As well as being technically impressive, Jessica’s voice is, in my opinion, simply mesmerising.
It was further displayed to great effect in The Phantom of the Opera selection, including The Phantom Of The Opera which was a spellbinding duet between Jessica and Tim Howar, with some particularly impressive high notes from Jessica.
Tim Howar’s rich vocals were also showcased in Close Every Door – one of three numbers to feature from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat.
With smoke and flashing lights, the Cats section of music was presented in spectacular fashion, and included a great selection of songs, such as the jazzy Macavity The Mystery Cat and Magical Mister Mistoffelees – complete with a bit of magic.
There was also a captivating performance of the poignant song Memory by Ria Jones, who further impressed when she reprised the role of Sunset Boulevard’s Norma Desmond (as whom she appeared at Curve in 2017 and in a special concert performance last year). As If We Never Said Goodbye was a particular favourite of mine, and made it quite clear why she received such high praise for her role as the silent-screen goddess.
During the Sunset Boulevard section of the show, Shem Omari James was impressive in his delivery of the musical’s titular song. I also enjoyed his performance of the powerful Superstar from rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar.
‘Til I Hear You Sing from was a stand-out performance from Tim Rogers, who was personally invited by Andrew Lloyd Webber to create the sequel to The Phantom of the Opera, Love Never Dies, from which the song is taken. This number demonstrated his rich tone and impressive breath control, which were also apparent in his excellent performance of Love Changes Everything from Aspects Of Love.
The performances were interspersed with pre-recorded video links featuring Andrew Lloyd Webber himself, which had been filmed at Curve and around Leicester – which added a lovely, local touch.
The videos gave a wonderful insight into the stories behind the songs, and allowed us to enjoy the composer’s sharp wit!
We were also treated to a video montage looking back over Andrew Lloyd Webber’s life and career whilst four of the singers performed Amigos Para Siempre, which was not written for a musical, but rather for the Barcelona Olympics in 1992.
Mention must go to the energetic Curve Youth and Community Company, who joined the leads on stage for a few of the numbers, and to the brilliant eight-piece band, led by musical director Matthew Spencer-Smith, who played a huge part in recreating the magical music of Andrew Lloyd Webber – not least the talented cellist Natalie Hancock, who delivered a sublime performance of Variation 23.
The in-the-round setting worked well, with good use being made of the revolve, gifted to Curve by theatrical producer Cameron Mackintosh. The lighting rig was also used to great effect, emphasising the changing moods of the pieces.
This really was a wonderful experience. Not just the production itself, but also being back inside the theatre.
The Curve team have done an excellent job of adapting the venue and are doing their best to make everyone feel as safe as possible.
As well as raising the walls between the two theatre spaces to create a socially distanced auditorium, measures include giving audience members allocated arrival times and entry points, a one-way system, and at-seat hospitality service. These measures mean that we can all enjoy this wonderful place, and feel comfortable doing so.
In my opinion, The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber is the ultimate evening of live musical theatre – and what better way to celebrate the return of this gem of a theatre?
Curve is back, and it’s almost As If We Never Said Goodbye.
– The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber is at Curve until June 19. Tickets cost from £10 to £45.