Broadway review by Adam Feldman
"You can get away with anything as long as you don't bore," Michael Ball sings in Andrew Lloyd Webber's new musical, The Woman in White—which, by this standard, gets away with very little. Lloyd Webber and his collaborators have taken Wilkie Collins's breathless 1860 sensation-fiction novel—"the story of what a Woman's patience can endure, and what a Man's resolution can achieve," per Collins's opening line—and reduced it to a pale ghost of Phantom. The composer's generically lush sung-through score is the musical equivalent of wall-to-wall carpeting; David Zippel, the latest lyricist to be seduced and despoiled by that pop-opera bounder Lloyd Webber, supplies the requisite moony doggerel ("I believe my heart / How can it be wrong / It says that what I feel for you / I will feel my whole life long").
Ball, as the oleaginous Count Fosco, and the resolute Maria Friedman, as the show's plain heroine, sustain their dignity; but the rest of the company, backed by a depressingly gimmicky virtual-reality set, seems stuck in a treacly Victorian episode of Scooby-Doo. (At one low point, the ensemble performs what sounds like an English peasant version of "The Macarena.") The occasional similarities to Sweeney Todd—innocent maiden falsely sent to an asylum, shrill madwoman with ominous warnings, grandiose Italian of dubious character—leave one longing for the razor's slice. If this drab London transfer can last on Broadway, it will only prove what a Composer's reputation can achieve, and what an Audience can endure.
The Woman in White. Marquis Theatre. Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Lyrics by David Zippel. Book by Charlotte Jones. Dir. Trevor Nunn. With Maria Friedman, Michael Ball.