Review by Sam Waite
Since being published twenty years ago, Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife has become ingrained in the public consciousness. It's hard to believe over two-dozen agents turned the manuscript away, since the novel has since been adapted as a 2009 film, and in 2022 had adaptations on both television and the UK stage. That most recent version, musical The Time Traveller’s Wife (using the British spelling this time) has released their original cast recording ahead of a West End run.
For those unfamiliar with the musical, TV series, film, and the book, Henry has a condition that causes him to jump through time with no say in how far or for how long these jumps are. Clare, who's seen him several times throughout her life, is the love of his ever-complicated life, who has a list of dates he will visit with an older Henry as her reliable source. It's romantic, it's charming, it's sad, the romance is challenging – Nicholas Sparks is probably furious that he didn't think of it first.
David Hunter and Joanna Woodward, the stars of last year’s Chester run, return for both the recording and the West End production. Both are terrific vocalists and well-suited to the pop-leaning songs, with each reaching emotional highs and lows in their delivery and – if not the entire plot – keeping the events and feelings within each number clear without visual aids. They are joined by a strong supporting cast, including Tim Mahendran and Hiba Elchikhe as long-time friends of the couple, and Ross Dawes giving a standout performance when duetting with Hunter as Henry’s dad.
Composition and lyrics are the joint work of musician/producer/Eurythmic Dave Stewart, and singer-songwriter/actress/Sausage Joss Stone. The pair prove to be a good match, crafting appealing and engaging melodies and staying clear, thankfully, of the kind of laboured “time” motif one might expect for this story. I was immediately taken with the opening ‘Prologue’ sounding almost like the joyful ending of a story, settling me into the idea of time travel existing in this universe, and impacting the storytelling.
Two highlights come in the second act, one for each of the musical’s leading players. Hunter opens act two's musical contributions with ‘Journeyman’, which begins with softer instrumentation and a real focus on Hunter’s vocals and inflections, before building in both the intensity of his delivery and the volume of the music to reflect the stress Henry’s condition causes. Woodward delivers a stunning vocal on 'I'm In Control’, a gutsy number for an enraged Clare and the moment where Stone’s influence is most apparent – the score not sounding like it could be ripped from the albums of its composers is a pleasant surprise, but the Joss Stone energy really works for this track.
Admittedly, not everything is quite so strong. In early number 'Masterpiece’ the couple repeat the word “spinning”, which presumably translates better onstage, undoubtedly matched with literal spinning. Without any visual element, though, it just sounds as if Stewart and Stone (great duo name, by the way!) left in a placeholder lyric from their drafting sessions. The duo’s lyrics are mostly solid, but the odd line like, “some bad, some good, some misunderstood,” doesn't quite land – maybe it's a clunker of a line, maybe the inflection is off, but something just doesn't quite work.
Imperfect but utterly charming, this album perfectly encapsulates a troubled but deeply loving relationship. Like most cast recordings, this one is a better companion to the show than a complete form of storytelling – but unlike most, there are already multiple mediums through which listeners may be familiar with the characters and plot. Strong vocals and a pair of talented composer-lyricists ensure that each song is as enjoyable as the last, and that there is a clear emotional trajectory even when the story isn't as easy to keep up with. As a companion to, and a teaser for, The Time Traveller’s Wife’s West End run, this album may have its flaws, but left me excited to catch the show itself.
The Time Traveller’s Wife: The Musical (Original Cast Recording) is available now on all streaming platforms
The Tike Traveller’s Wife begins performances at London’s Apollo Theatre on October 7th
For tickets and information visit https://timetravellerswife.com/calendar/
Photos by Ant Clausen, from the show’s 2022 run at Storyhouse Theatre, Chester