Andrew Lloyd Webber has, rather terrifyingly, got his sexy back for this priapic curio of a musical. ‘Stephen Ward’ concerns the society osteopath of the same name: now largely forgotten, but in 1963 scapegoated for the Profumo Affair, having fatefully introduced Secretary of State for War John Profumo to showgirl Christine Keeler.
Webber has made it clear that he believes Ward’s conviction for living off immoral earnings was an establishment hatchet job. He wouldn’t be the only one; in any case Ward’s actions were clearly tangential to the married Profumo’s decision to hop into bed with an 18-year-old he barely knew.
Unfortunately, ‘Stephen Ward’ sets about proving its hero’s good character about as convincingly as a millionaire helping out at a soup kitchen. The first half is essentially a dirty-old-man fantasy, as Alexander Hanson’s avuncular, charismatic Ward swings his way through the ’60s Ð suavely luring the barely legal Keeler (Charlotte Spencer) away from her mother, and twinkling like a kindly grandfather as he introduces her to her latest shag. He’s a charming chap who keeps his nose clean and his kit on Ð refusing Keeler’s advances like a gentleman, the only person at the orgy (yes, there’s an orgy) not to partake.
And to begin with it’s quite enjoyable, in a guilty pleasure way. Richard Eyre directs at a great clip, there are some joyously campy flourishes Ð notably the opening, where a deceased Ward introduces himself from Blackpool Chamber of Horrors where he is displayed alongside waxworks of Hitler and Stalin Ð while Webber and lyricists Christopher Hampton and Don Black sprinkle it with some hummable pastiche pop songs. Moreover, Spencer is a terrific Keeler, sexy, precocious, vulgar and vulnerable; the odd bits of clanging dialogue aside, she lights up the stage.
The second half, though, is a bore. Spencer virtually drops out, and we’re left with a self-righteous slog through Ward’s trial and conviction. There’s much huffing and puffing about establishment nastiness and Ward’s blamelessness, but the manner in which this man Ð a prime candidate for a good Yewtree-ing if e’er there was one Ð is presented as some sort of saint is borderline offensive.
You don’t go to an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical looking for subtlety or empathyÉ you go for singing cats, or singing trains, or singing dictators, or singing Jesuses, or singing phantoms. Ward is a fascinating figure, but far too complex and human to bear up to this brash analysis, no more credible or rounded than that waxwork Hitler.
By Andrzej Lukowski
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Average User Rating
3.4 / 5
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Oh, how the might have fallen. (And I don't mean Profumo.) I can't believe how utterly dreadful this show was. Several in the audience left after intermission, but I decided to stick it out just to see if the second act (courtroom) would improve. (It didn't.) Where to begin with flaws? Terrible music, including an awful duet entitled "This Side of the Sky" (and just dripping with unironic schmaltz). Badly written. VERY sexist. This surprised me. I was hoping we'd get a bit more out of Keeler, that she'd get some agency and/or background into her motivations. But she's really just set up as an empty vessel for the male figures in the play (in more ways than one). There's some gratuitous Keeler nudity, and her entire narrative arc seems to be, "I like sex. Sex sex sex." Avoid!
We very much enjoyed Stephen Ward - the first half was very fun and upbeat and my husband very much enjoyed the hula-hooping number!. In the second half the newsreel shots add to the atmosphere of how events started to go very wrong for the lead characters. The set is simple which means that the cast can't rely on whistles and bells to carry the show along. Instead they have to really deliver on storytelling - which they do - and in this small theatre the result is a musical which feels very intimate and real. Hats off to the whole cast for a fantastic performance!
I am a massive ALW fan and have seen every show in many parts of the world. Been following the man and his music since those early Joseph days at Westminster Central Hall back in the late 60s so I was really looking forward to something new. My personal opinion is that this is the worst thing he has ever produced,very weak songs,thin characters and the worst ( and cheapest) stage sets I have ever seen in more than 40yrs of West End shows. So very disappointed and cant find a single redeeming factor.The whole show is below standard and it is interesting to see that they are already offering large discounts on ticket prices for a show that has only officially been open since 19th December 2013.
What a piece of art! The musical that London has been waiting for for years feels like watching a brand new play with a book so strong and a score which takes the storytelling to the next level, in the way all good musical scores should - devoted to plot, devoted to character, the content dictating the form. Part of the appeal of this piece is both its historical and current relevance, particularly that of the main character brought to life so perfectly by Alexander Hanson. Nobody should miss this extraordinary and important piece of theatre, particularly those who like their musicals to be intellectual, challenging and adult. Those musicals which really have something to say.
Saw the show yesterday afternoon! It's a brilliant score with some of the best ALW music since Phantom! I urge you to see the show and keep it alive! Fabulous cast! I really can't let this show close in March! It's just too amazing! Five stars! I just want Ward to win me over again and again and again!
Isaw this on 21 /12/2013 and I was amazed at the production the performance and the songs remaind in the head and are some of the best songs in a musical for a long time ,the scrip very funny and at times very moving,the audiance are the best critics of any show and they loved it thunderous applause and standing ovation,I left the theatre in a vibrant mood as did the rest of the audiance even the terrible wind and rain could not dampen my spirits,thank you the Cast and crew for performing this fine show with such feeliing and pure joy.
I saw it on the last preview before opening night. I thought it's a well paced, well directed, intelligent and thought provoking piece. Richard Eyre is a superb director, and the actors are all faultless. The characters aren't likable which I think some people will find challenging, but to me that's not important. It's good story telling, with great music. Alexander Hanson is especially good as Steven Ward. All roles are very well cast. There's no big show stopping numbers as such, but I personally like the songs and motifs, they forward the story and I feel have plenty of charm. Some aspects and plot are slightly glossed over, but if every nuance was explored it would be a very long show, and instead it goes very quickly with no drop of pace. I loved it.
If there’s any show in Lloyd Webber’s catalogue that reflects his knowledge and experience in musical theatre it’s Stephen Ward; so perfectly timed, paced with a script that keeps the details crystal clear and easy to follow for those new to the Profumo affair. The cast straddles the line expertly between straight play and sung through musical, leaving you with the impression of something respectful more than spectacle. Musically, because that’s what we want from Lloyd Webber, it’s strong but when has he ever been weak (for all it’s issues Love Never Dies had an amazing soundtrack). Ward may offer nothing particularly ground breaking but when your music invokes memories of Evita and Superstar you’re hardly going wrong. It’s a soundtrack I’m eager to buy. This is not a show built around music but built around a story Webber passionately wanted to tell, which is exactly why it works. It’s going to divide audiences, with those who know Lloyd Webber by reputation going to war with those that know him by his work. If you’re looking for Phantom head to Her Majesty’s Theatre but if fancy something small and intimate, along the lines of Tell Me On A Sunday and Aspects of Love then head to the Aldwych.
The Stephen Ward Musical was absolutley fantastic! I sat down not knowing what to expect, although I was slightly sceptical. I could not envisage how such a serious subject as was the Profumo Affair could be turned into a theatrical production. From the moment it started I was captivated. The opening scene was chilling and I could see many in the audience leaning forwards. No one moved for the first forty minutes. Alex Hanson did a magnificent job playing Stephne Ward. Whilst some might say that the public feel no sympathy for him I managed to conncet with his character and the woefull unjustice that was laid upon him. Andrew Lloyd Webber's work is easy to recognise in some of the songs like, “This Side Of The Sky”, and “I’m Hopeless When It Comes To You”. They wer beautiful and so full of emotion. It was however a shame we didnt get to see more of some of the characters like Joanna Riding who plays Profumo’s wife. I definately recommend it to everyone, especially those who are a fan of Andrew Lloyd Webbers work. Well done to everyone! The cast were fantastic. Christopher Hampton and Don Black have done a fantastic job as have Lord Lloyd Webber and the whole cast!
Alex Hanson's Ward is a cold fish, a detached smug social climber, and it really is difficult to muster much sympathy as his life falls apart during act two when the establishment conspire to make him their sacrificial lamb. Lloyd Webber's avowed intent to rehabilitate Ward's reputation fails miserably, as we care not one jot what happens to this sleazy superficial unsuccessful machiavellian manipulator. It's not all bad, there are flashes of Webber's brilliance in couple of truly beautiful songs, Ward and Keeler’s paean to a life they'll never lead, “This Side Of The Sky”, and “I’m Hopeless When It Comes To You” from a woefully underused Joanna Riding as Profumo’s cuckolded wife, but most of the score is blandly repetitive and never soars. The cod-reggae tune that limps along whenever a black character sings is basically Dreadlock Holiday with worse lyrics, an achievement I would have previously thought impossible. This is a chamber piece that would never have landed in the West End had it not been attached to the name Andrew Lloyd Webber, but will probably find a new life in 20 years time as an intimate production at the Menier Chocolate Factory, when it will be hailed as a lost masterpiece and I will be eating my words. Full report on my blog http://www.frontrowdress.com/2013/12/stephen-ward-aldwych-theatre-saturday.html
Stephen Ward Must Prove to be an Out-of-the-World Show! Your expectations from a musical show rise to great levels when names like Christopher Hampton and Don Black are associated with it. Stephen Ward is a dream project of Andrew Lloyd Webber and it features the intricacies of the 1963 society osteopath. I have my tickets booked and I recommend all not to miss this excellent creation.
Thoughts on the second preview of "Stephen Ward". The show starts well and has a strong forty minutes in which a strong cast deliver an excellent script (rather better than Paul Nicholas's recent play "Keeler") full of wonderfully wry and ironic lines which perfectly counterpoint the touching and romantic action taking place before a brilliantly realised set. Christine's moving and repeated words "he saw something in me" are a perfect touch and very representative of the fine writing and integrated and sensitive production. Then things totally collapse. The "sex orgy" number "You've never had it so good" seems to come from a dated and rather grubby pantomime and the show's initial sophistication and style vanish. Things never improve again as evening descends to crude stereotyping, repetitive and monotonous music, and totally unconvincing melodrama for the remaining two hours. Even the 11o'clock number given to Valerie Hobson fails to ignite and the problem is made worse - it is tired and too reminiscent of Lloyd Webber's former hits but totally lacking their musical or emotional power - particularly as Hobson herself is presented without the charm and dignity she had in real life and is relegated to the stereotype of the "upper class wife". Then things get worse still through the vast amount of linking narrative which is landed on Alexander Hanson, the excellent actor and singer playing Stephen Ward himself. It just goes on an on with ever diminishing effect. That coupled with the appallingly crude way in which the police, court officials and "establisment" as a whole are presented are the final nails in the musical's coffin. The cast are uniformally excellent but are not well directed - and the end of Act One (a weak number about the '60's not particularly well delivered, followed by a shockingly messed up "coup" involving the black "villains" shooting at the door of Stephen Ward's apartment) is a complete anti-climax and left the audience bewildered and disappointed. Act Two unfortunately has none of the musical panache of the first part of Act One and the court scenes collapsed beneath the tedious music underlying a very banal script. Then poor Hanson is expected to deliver a bombastic and over-orchestrated finale which is totally misjudged and despite using every instrument in the orchestra to pound us into emotional submission - totally fails. If the show's "thesis" about Stephen Ward's "betrayal" is correct, it demands much better handling than this. With some urgently needed and judicious re-writing, and cuts to the tedious music in the court scene, things could improve as "opening night" is 10 days away - but it's going to be a very tough job. As the cast take their bows and the repetitive refrain of "You've Never Had It So Good" plays yet again, neither they nor the audience really believe its cliched and increasingly ironic sentiments. Yes, Lord Andrew, we have had it so good - and particularly from you in the past! Sitting near us in the stalls some friend's of the production were heard clearly saying as the shows music faded away "What on earth are we going to say to Andrew. Think of something positive". Well the biggest service they could do Lord Lloyd Webber is to tell him the truth so that perhaps - in the short time left before the show opens - he and his vast team could do something to save what promises to be a commercial and financial disaster unless massive re-working takes place. Oh dear - it is such a shame for all concerned!
I'm back from seeing Stephen Ward. For it only being the second preview it appeared slick and without any obvious hiccups. I think Chelsea and Eton Square must be deserted this evening, I have never seen such a well to do audience other than at the ROH. At the interval I heard a few sloanes saying "oh darling, isin't it fabulous, I must bring mummy she'd adore it" etc etc. I had wondered why it wasn't called "The Profumo Affair" but having seen it, its all about Stephen Ward so makes sense, though what tourists will see in that name I'm not sure. At times, the show appears to be more like a play than a musical especially in the second half there is quite alot of dialogue. There is also a strong narrative from the excellent Alexander Hanson who addresses the audience at times. The opening and closing scenes in the Chamber of Horrors at Tussauds were chillingly staged. I thought to myself that this is how the play "The Kings Speech" might have turned out if it was a musical - a wonderful true gripping true story. It will attract an intellectual audience perhaps the National Theatre crowd, and definately wont appeal to lovers of shows like "We Will Rock You" though unlike the Queen musical, its does have a very strong book. It does need a memorable song like "Don't cry for me Argentina", "Love Changes Everything" or "Memory" although Joanna Riding who is very good sings a solo in act 2 which had shades of "Love never dies". The sign in the lobby says recommended for age 14+ and i agree, its raunchy in places and there's a very scandulous society orgy type scene. The simple set reminded me of Bombay Dreams at times and i thought any minute we'd get a fountain and Shakalaka Baby! I liked the show, it kept me intrigued and I hope it does well. If you have a fetish for curtains you'll love it - at first I thought they were cleverly used, however, their constant use did become a bit repetitive. Some of the music reminded me of Aspects of Love but then you do often get reminders of other ALW music in some of his other productions. It might be the hit of the season, I hope so.