15th February 05 - The Woman in White at the Palace Theatre, London
By Steve Rudd
The Woman in White is the latest box-office-busting musical extravaganza from
Andrew Lloyd Webber,
based on the famous Victorian novel of the same name that was published way, way back in
1860 by the distinguished and understandably celebrated writer Wilkie Collins.
This lavish new stage-show has been running since September 2004, and a great many people
might have tangentially heard about it through the medium of the Top 40 pop charts, as
bizarre as that might sound.
But wait - for Blue member Duncan James secured a Top 40 hit
with his rendition of the show's lead song, Believe My Heart.
Does that happen to ring any bells for anyone?
From a visual perspective the show is amazing, and one of the men who pioneered the
ground-breaking set design has been widely-acclaimed and honoured for his work.
That man is Bill Dudley, and the way in which his set works has to be seen to be believed.
Computer-generated backgrounds are deftly projected onto a forever-moving backdrop
that ensures the production really does have an epic feel, whether the action and drama
is located in the dingily-lit backstreets of Victorian-era London, or in a stately
mansion in the beautiful countryside of the North of England.
The cast is fabulous, but some people might be surprised to learn that the most well-known
celebrity in the show doesn't actually play the lead role.
Michael Ball is playing Count Fosco, a jolly rogue with a larger-than-life lust for women.
Ball is totally unrecognisable as the Count under the body suit and make-up that is required
for the role, with Ball having taken over the role from Michael Crawford (hey, who
would really have thought that the comedian who played Frank Spencer in
Some Mothers Do 'Av 'Em would go on to become such a massive star in the musicals?)
for a six-week-period in the show's run.
Martin Crewes and Maria Friedman (with whom Michael Ball has previously worked) play the
two leads who fall head over heels in love with each other, yet their love - as in most
love stories - fails to run a smooth course and is upset by the fact that Friedman's
character is all set to marry somebody else.
A mysterious woman in white who keeps cropping up in eerie places such as on deserted
railway lines and in graveyards doesn't particularly help matters either...
There are some cracking good songs in the show, with I Believe My Heart being the
main tune to crop up time and again, and which ultimately proves to be the most
memorable of the lot as a direct result.
The Theatre itself is steeped in history, with the Palace actually being the theatre
where Les Miserables ran and ran for a great deal of time before such a show was
relocated to another venue in the West End in order to make way for The Woman in White.
Just be warned though if you buy a cheap balcony ticket, for such seats really are
located up in the rafters of the building and there is barely room to move a muscle once seated.
So don't even try. Just sit back and allow yourself to be suitably entertained.
You might like to take a cushion with you though, depending on how much you are willing
to invest in your ticket for the show which will be directly proportional to how
comfortable your time spent there proves to be...
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