The glittering chandelier sitting center stage needed no explanation as it began to rise, though not terribly far, to the pulsing and very familiar music of Phantom of the Opera, in the new musical revue, Now and Forever: the Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber. If the opening night audience is any guide, this world premiere will now be comfortably and happily ensconced with full houses at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire. It opened Wednesday night to a standing ovation and runs through March 17. Imagined and created by Aaron Thielen, lead artistic director at the Marriott and director-choreographer Marc Robin, a veteran of more than 20 Marriott shows, they have not written a book show but have put together a showcase of powerhouse numbers from shows such as Cats, Phantom of the Opera, Evita, and Jesus Christ Superstar, as well as music from Aspects of Love, Sunset Boulevard, Starlight Express, Song and Dance, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and Love Never Dies, a “Phantom” sequel which has not yet made it to Broadway.
Lloyd Webber songs are so eminently singable that we often forget how much music he’s written for dance. What was truly delightful was seeing dance get almost equal billing with music and song. Musical theatre often employs dance numbers as “fillers” or to give the singers a chance to breathe between numbers and change costumes. Not so this time. Director/choreographer Marc Robin has made sure to include a variety of dance styles, from classical ballet to jazz, hip-hop and tap by bringing on board the terrific choreographers Harrison McEldowney, of Hubbard Street renown and Matt Raftery, Associate Director and long time staple at the Marriott.
There was plenty of Broadway pizzazz, starting with the excellent dance sequence in “The Jellicle Ball” from Cats, (which should really have opened the show). The innovative choreography included soaring leaps (grand jetes), flashy turns, full-on male splits, and romantic lifts and spins that held center stage and were superbly executed by the eight extremely talented dancers. And the dynamite tap number, performed by Melissa Zaremba, backed up by Jameson Cooper, Michael Darnell, and Raymond Interior was a knockout. An even bigger treat was the fluid pas de deux by Ellen Green (formerly of the Royal Danish Ballet) and Luke Manley.
This is not to give short shrift to the musical numbers and quality cast of singers. Particular standouts were Susan Moniz in “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again” from Phantom of the Opera and “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” from Evita, coloratura Erin Stewart in “The Phantom of the Opera”, and “Think of Me” from Phantom of the Opera, as well as Brian Bohr and Jameson Cooper (on guitar) in the quiet, haunting “Close Every Door” from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, a particular favorite of mine.
The trio of Ben Jacoby, Max Quinlan and Travis Taylor singing “Love Changes Everything” from Aspects of Love, and Linda Balgord in “Memory” from the ever popular Cats were equally stunning, with Max Quinlan doing a great turn in Jesus Christ Superstar. That’s a lot of standout performances. The only real criticism I have of the show, other than the overwrought and too familiar opening chandelier, was that almost every solo ended in a show-stopping crescendo. It’s hard to keep topping every big number with another big number. The show has trouble building to a climax. Then again, with the music of Lloyd Webber, it’s hard not to. In this show we have lots of “11 o’clock numbers”.
Lest you forget how popular and enduring Sir Andrew’s shows are, consider that this week is the 25th year that Phantom of the Opera has run continuously on Broadway. That’s a remarkable achievement for any composer on either side of the pond.
Now and Forever: The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber runs through March 17 at the Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Drive in Lincolnshire. Tickets are $40-$48. For information or reservations call 847-634-0200. www.MarriottTheatre.com
Photos: Courtesy of Marriott Theatre Lincolnshire