Does Andrew Lloyd Webber Steal Shoes?


Not an ordinary question to be asked whilst standing at the bus stop, but it had been one of those evenings.   My friend and I were standing at St John’s Wood after a boisterous kofte.

“No,” I said.  “What? Of course he doesn’t.”

“You said he’d nicked something from Ravel.”

“Yes.”

“Well, then.”

There is no Number 13 on the horizon.  “No, not Ravel the shop.  Ravel the dead composer.”

“So, he’s dead.”

“Yes.”

My friend shrugged.

“It’s a different thing,” I said, disappointed that I was having to describe the difference between footwear and musical composition on a rainy street corner in North West 8.  “You can take someone’s shoes when they’re dead; but there are rules about dead music.”

She didn’t get it and held both her palms out, as if to say: “Music?  Shoes?  What difference?  Where’s the bus?”

“You can’t steal dead composers’ works.  There are currently no laws in place about what happens to your shoe collection when you die; which is a gross oversight, in my view.”

The fact is that Andrew Lloyd Webber, whilst no doubt being a splendid person, is know to have “borrowed”, shall we say, from the archives of classical music for some of his musicals.  Ravel (the man, not the shop) and his  Bolero (the piece of music, not the item of clothing) is forever linked to Cats (the musical, not the animals).   Once on the bus, and shaking drizzled droplets out of our hair, my friend became utterly confused and thought I was talking about cats in shoes going cape shopping.  But the sentiment was right.   Not that I dislike MiLord Webber, of course.  I did once work for him and very nice he was too – always knocking on the dressing room doors rather than just barging in like the producer used to in the hope that we would all be in a state of general disarray and undress.   But MiLord Lloyd Webber did compose a new song for this show and for two weeks I tried to work out where I had heard this “new tune” before.  Halfway through a Thursday matinee it hit me – most of it was the same as the theme tune from The Upper Hand, that sitcom where Joe McGann played a housekeeper.

It must have been galling for Love Never Dies to receive it’s mauling from the Press, as The Phantom of The Opera / Melodrama / Electro-pop/Classical-type / Musical is resilient to all attacks.  It ceases to matter that it’s a bit shit.  It ceases to mean anything that it’s overblown tripe.  It ceases to matter that it’s got more ham than a village butcher.  Still they file in – tourists from the four corners of the globe, school trips, middle-aged couples – and watch the chandelier nearly but not actually fall on them, accompanied by a dubious soundtrack of electric organ and classical oboe.  “Listen to the music of the NNIIIIIGGGHHHHHHT!……………….”  Mucus of the night, more like.  Still, I shouldn’t be mean.  MiLord Lloyd Webber has snapped up several West End theatres and fills them with a hearty variety of shows for your pleasure and perusal.   He doesn’t actually have many of his own composed shows in the West End these days and has seamlessly slipped into Producer mode and casting director for Saturday night TV.

Whilst Phantom and the purely saccharine and downright silly Les Miserables / a.k.a. The Glums marches on to revolution without showing any signs of stoppage, good shows are going to the wall.  Betty Blue Eyes – great reviews, a pleasant audience reception but not enough tickets sold – closed last week.  Tourists must still be coming to London – The Glums and The Farter of the Opera, Wicked and Mamma Mia must be taking the lion’s share.  But for the newer musicals trying to elbow their way in to this market is a brutal and murky business.  In three weeks, Crazy For You takes up the transfer that it was always somehow due to have since it opened at Regents’ Park in early August.  The week I saw it, cast members told me that the first weeks’ performances had been littered with producers, to whom a West End transfer for a classic Gershwin musical was essentially considered a no-brainer.  Tap dancing, a classic score, a traditional musical comedy structure (girl meets boy, love arrives, love is challenged, some dancing, some more dancing, adversity is met and bashed over the head, some tap dancing, true love, a happy ending.  Oh, and a comedic turn from a series of small, eccentric cameo roles), the classic “feel good” musical – all these components when shaken together and baked in the middle shelf of a pre-heated oven for an hour and a half produce the Perfect American Musical of the Golden Age.  But – will it survive?

Crazy For You is a new show, based on a new-ish show that was based on an old show.  Girl Crazy was the original Gershwin show from 1930, which was shaken up and edited by Ken Ludwig in the late 1980s to produce Crazy For You in 1991.  It opened on Broadway, in London at the Prince Edward Theatre, won every award going, made a star of Ruthie Henshall and ran for a couple of years.  Its home in 1993 was The Prince Edward Theatre, a glamorous, glorious feast of Art Deco madness at the salubrious end of Old Compton Street, where Crazy For You fitted ideally into its home, which was basically a building as old as the show inside it.  The Novello, where Betty Blue Eyes has snorted her last, is at the end of the Strand where they forgot to put any kind of atmosphere and which edges, soberly, onto the Aldwych end of Holborn.  Theatreland it isn’t.  Geography is historically vital to how and where theatre productions eek out their survival, but perhaps this won’t be a factor in the case for Crazy For You.  I shouldn’t need to tell any of you about Crazy For You’s  ridiculous musical virtues as a show and if I do – well, then – you’re reading the wrong blog.

Ironically, a show that kicks the recession blues neatly into touch with it’s joie de vivre and optimism may well end up being a victim of exactly the kind of economic gloom that is annihilated whilst watching Crazy For You.  You simply get momentarily swept up in its fabulousness.  It is impossible to see Crazy For You  and not feel better about things, or think that some great cosmic world order has satisfactorily been restored as you leave the theatre.  Like all great classics of the American comedy musical stage, it is a show within a show; and the idea of a theatre being repossessed is challenged by a “Let’s put the show on right here!” fortitude that would suit Mickey Rooney.    The lead character, Bobby, is a man to whom nothing matters other than dancing, which he often illustrates throughout the show.  Rather than dancing and singing suddenly coming at you right between the eyes during an otherwise ordinary narrative, and therefore feeling a bit anachronistic and out of place, in the traditional American musical plot very often mirrors subject content.   And, frankly, what could be more topical than a theatre on which “foreclosure” is imminent?  (“Foreclosure”!  what a euphemism.  How American.  So much more smoke-and-mirrors than our own take-no-prisoners, gruff word: “repossession”…).  The score of Crazy For You is nothing short of remarkable.

This Open Air Theatre production deserves to survive with rampant success.  The thought of actors and actresses killing themselves with this show eight times a week to houses filled only to two-thirds capacity is a depressing one. Crazy For You is an ideal antidote to the risks and petulance and toughness of our current climate.  After all, aren’t the recent riots summed up by : “When I’m dancing I don’t care if this old world stops turning, Or if my bank is burning, Or even if Romania wants to fight Albania.…”?  and some much-needed context for the current financial lunacy provided by this? : “My bonds and shares may fall downstairs –  Who cares, who cares? I’m dancing and I can’t be bothered now!”   I hope this peach of a show gets the long and illustrious West End run it deserves, as their as far too few tap dances in the West End right now.  Perhaps it will survive for a year against the odds; so long as Andrew Lloyd Webber doesn’t steal any more shoes.

Please return to The London Bluebird if you enjoyed this.  This blog is updated every Thursday.

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