One of the things I most regret about leaving the UK is that I didn’t go to see any West End productions when I had the chance. My parents took me to see Barnum – a musical about the famous American circus promoter, and starring Michael Crawford – when I was 9 or 10; but I seem to remember I was more excited about the awesome A-Team figures I’d just managed to score from the McDonalds around the corner.
These days I have the opportunity to see touring musicals when they play in Auckland – Wicked has just spent its ten-year anniversary as a musical while playing at the Civic – but seeing a show here is filled with jeopardy. We don’t seem to get many British or American productions; usually it will be the Australian version of the show and who wants to see Les Miserables crippled by a thick Australian accent?
Worse still, a couple of years ago we had Cats play at the Civic in Auckland. The advertising and posters would lead you to believe it was an official production – British, American or Australian – as they used the original artwork you would associate with the original Andrew Lloyd Webber show; but things were not as they seemed. Friends of mine who went to the show were horrified to learn – once they’d sat in their seats, of course – that the production was by the Howick Players, a local theatre troupe. I find the simple fact that there’s a group of amateur dramatic called the Howick Players amusing enough, but then to learn that they skilfully passed off their show as a West End production (until they stepped on the stage in dollar-shop costumes) is hilarious. I think the Howick Players might just be my favourite local theatre group.
I’ve never seen The Phantom Of The Opera so I can’t comment on how representative the soundtrack album is. It’s the original cast recording – Sarah Brightman, Michael Crawford, etc – so I’d guess it’s the genuine article, or as close as you can get. There’s some cracking tunes on this – The Music Of The Night, Think Of Me, and the title track of course – but it’s not the easiest musical to listen to. It’s very wordy, and I know musicals need to have some form of dialogue to advance the narrative, but the big musical numbers seem to be outweighed by lengthy passages where the players sing a truckload of dialogue.
I’d always thought Echoes by Pink Floyd sounded familiar when I first heard it. Roger Waters claims – with good reason, too! – that Andrew Lloyd Webber stole the descending/ascending motif from this song for the title track of Phantom. I just heard Phantom first (unfortunately). You can understand where Waters is coming from – he definitely has a point. You don’t really hear it said much these days, but the early Lloyd Webber productions were always regarded as operas with a rock slant, so it’s not too far-fetched to assume the maestro would have his ears open to what was happening in that genre of music. There are other parts of Opera that scream Pink Floyd to me – the cries of “Sing For Me!” at the end of the title song reek of Roger Waters circa The Wall.
Waters has never officially challenged Lloyd Webber over the plagiarism, but he has mentioned him in song. The lyrics to one of his solo recordings, It’s A Miracle, reads:
We cower in our shelters,
With our hands over our ears,
Lloyd Webber’s awful stuff,
Runs for years and years and years,
An earthquake hits the theatre,
But the operetta lingers,
Then the piano lid comes down,
And breaks his fucking fingers,
It’s a miracle!
Hit: The Music Of The Night
Hidden Gem: Think Of Me