Each Friday at 7pm, Andrew Lloyd Webber (or more likely one of his minions) uploads a previous filmed show of his to YouTube for 48 hours only as part of his #TheShowsMustGoOn series. Previously we have been treated to Jesus, Joseph and the Phantom himself. This week, we were due to get a version of Cats but unfortunately (or should that be fortunately?) the plans we were changed and we were given a concert to celebrate his 50th birthday. But what was it like?
First, we have to realise that his 50th birthday wasn't fairly recent. In fact, this was filmed a whopping 22 years ago in 1998 - in a time before Ian McKellen meowed his way through a movie version of Cats, the Phantom hadn't relocated to Coney Island and Gary Barlow didn't pretend to play an invisible piano for daily lockdown videos with random celebrities. Really, the world was a much better place. While Andrew Lloyd Webber is still highly regarded, his hit rate was a lot stronger than it is now - with several high profile flops tainting his name in the 21st Century.
The line up is still fairly impressive now but in 1998 this must have been huge. The show opens with Tina Arena, who was amazing in the 90s (if not criminally overlooked in the UK) and is still amazing to this day, performing the title track from Whistle Down The Wind. This is one of ALW's shows I've not seen personally but if the title track is anything to go by, I would buy a ticket for a revival.
Next was the Joseph segment where Donny Osmond treated us to the two most famous songs from the show. Now obviously Donny is a legend in his own right, but I've heard better versions of 'Close Every Door' and it just left me wondering where Jason Donovan was? (It was the last 90s so rehab I guess)
After Joseph, we were treated to songs from Evita from Antonia Banderas who was in the movie adaptation, followed by a stirring rendition of 'Don't cry for me Argentina' from the always reliable Elaine Paige. This was a real high point in the show. We continued the Biblical theme with songs from Jesus Christ Superstar including Michael Ball's rendition of 'Gethsemane'. Now... I really like Michael Ball, but there is a certain moment in this song which every theatre lover listens out for. If you know, you know. While Michael's talent is undeniable, his vocal range doesn't allow him to hit that note and so the performance, like some of the notes in the song, fell flat.
Songs from Phantom followed with Sarah Brightman joining Antonio Banderas and Michael Ball for some of the most famous numbers from the show. The most bizarre part was Brightman attempting 'The music of the night'. I'm all for gender reversing in musical numbers - look how amazing the recent revival of Company was. However, Sarah's voice did not suit this song and was a real low point in what should have been a highlight of the night.
Next up was Bonnie Tyler. Moving on...
An unexpectedly emotional moment came next. The same year this was filmed, Boyzone had the biggest hit of their careers with 'No Matter What' from Whistle Down The Wind. The song was inescapable in 1998 so this must have been special to see on the night. However, due to the tragic death of Stephen Gately aged 33, the performance took on a different meaning and was tougher to watch two decades later. His voice remains beautiful and the song itself is still every bit as fantastic today as it was in 1998.
The highlight of the night followed next. Sunset Boulevard featuring Glenn Close singing 'With One Look' and my own personal favourite Andrew Lloyd Webber composition 'As if we never said goodbye'. A truly incredible moment which surely gave goosebumps to everyone in attendance. Close gave one of the single best performances I have ever seen in theatre when she reprised her role as Norma Desmond in the West end in 2016 and this took me right back to that moment. With the news she is due to lead the cast in the movie adaptation in the not too distant future, it is a good reason to look forward to life after lockdown.
Another standout performance of the night was Elaine Paige singing the best (and if we're being honest only good) song from Cats with a striking version of 'Memory'. One of the final performances from the night was a look to the future, 'The Heart Is Slow To Learn' which would eventually go on to appear in Love Never Dies.
Overall, this was a very inconsistent show. Some performances were as good as it gets while others had been done better a million times before and a million times since. There was an unncessary large focus on Whistle Down The Wind, which would have made sense at the time as it was his most recent musical in the West end, but decades later, isn't the most exciting thing in the world to watch.
Still, it's great to have these shows to look forward to during lockdown every Friday and when ALW is at its best, it's like no other.
You can watch the full show on the link below until Sunday 3rd May.