I’ve always enjoyed musicals. Yes, that’s an admission I’m man enough to make. From Singing in the Rain to Paint Your Wagon, I’ve seen a bunch. I even saw All that Jazz during its original theatrical run when I was all of say, eight or nine years old (little did I know exactly what my parents were hauling me along to see). Which brings me to Masterpiece: the Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber, a DVD/CD companion set which records a September 2001 concert in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China.
The concert boasts the talents of Elaine Page, Kris Phillips, Sandy Lam, Tony Vincent, an “international orchestra,” and a variety of other performers. Paige, an established star of both Broadway and the West End, is showcased well here, and the others offer solid, if often unspectacular, renditions of Webber’s extensive library – from Jesus Christ Superstar to Evita, Cats, and Phantom of the Opera, they’re all represented here.
The DVD features the concert itself, along with a 46 minute “making of” documentary and a few other extras. The CD features 13 songs; as the case suggests, there’s one disc for your TV, and one for your car. There are a few things to say about this combination set. First of all, the music is Andrew Lloyd Webber. If you don’t like Webber, surprise – you’re not going to like this either. Unless of course you’ve only seen a fraction of Webber’s work and hated it based upon that impression. Then the diversity of music here might change your mind. Since the songs span some thirty years (Jesus Christ Superstar was done in the seventies, after all), it is interesting to see a bit of musical evolution going on.
And that is what the discs have going for them: the music. The orchestra – a sixty piece group led by conductor Patrick Vacciarello – sound quite good. The singers all deliver as well, be it on “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Gethsemane (I Only Want to Say), or one of my personal favorites, “And the Money Kept Rolling In” (from “Evita”). But it is that last song that brings me to my principal complaint about Masterpiece: it is one of the few times where the visuals and the music actually present a cohesive, impressive effect.
The sets, costumes, and presentation are where this production seems to misfire. For example, they chose to perform “Macavity the Mystery Cat” from Cats as some sort of burlesque routine with a group of dancers who wore the same sheer gauze that they did in virtually every number. Many of the numbers had dancers and other performers bumping and grinding around the stage without any real sense of continuity or order. When a song is presented as part of a musical, of course, it has a context and the staging reflects that; here it seems as though taking the songs out of their original context meant that the show’s producers weren’t quite certain how to stage it. And it shows.
The upshot of it is this. If you like Andrew Lloyd Webber, you’ll probably like the music on Masterpiece. At the same time, you’ll probably be a bit disappointed with the visuals, and wish that they could have done a bit better job of staging the whole production. As an overview of Webber’s work, it is worth it as well. But in terms of a Masterpiece, well – let’s just say it needed a bit more elbow grease to attain that level of perfection.