In all the ways that matter Woman in White is exactly what a musical should be: evocative music, beautifully sung and a fascinating story. Andrew Lloyd Webber has re-worked his adaptation of the mystery book by Wilkie Collins so that it is a shorter version of that presented at the Palace Theatre in 2004. The original was considered a failure, although it did run for 19 months. As you listen, you can recognise the lovely melodies of Lord Webber. The show is virtually sung-through so plenty of opportunity to relish the romantic tunes. Described as a ghost story, but that’s debatable, as the woman in white is far too substantial and is seen and touched by quite a few people!
On his way to a new teaching job as a drawing instructor, Walter Hartwright (Ashley Stilburn) encounters a strange-looking woman dressed all in white (Sophie Reeves as Anne Catherick). She starts to tell him an important secret then suddenly disappears. He continues to go to the house to meet his students, Laura Fairlie (Anna O’Byrne) and her half-sister, Marian Halcombe (Carolyn Maitland). Walter sees a resemblance between the woman in white and Laura but the puzzle is not solved. Walter and Laura fall for each other, but she is already engaged to Sir Percival Glyde (Chris Peluso) and has to remain with him, in spite of the fact that others suspect him of evil intentions. Marian also falls for Walter, who has no romantic interest in her. The story revolves around these characters and a number of twists which gradually reveal themselves as the play progresses.
Thom Sutherland, who directed the well-received musical, Titanic at the charming Charing Cross Theatre, manages to once again use the small stage to great advantage. The set which shows the changes in venue by sliding doors moving across to reveal a different view is made suitably mysterious through the use of whirling smoke. It is difficult for him, however to be able to make the rather disparate elements of this 19th century story gel together in the stage show.
Ashley Stilburn as the leading man has a strong tenor voice and puts across his character movingly, while the two sisters relate well to each other and both sing thrillingly. There is even a comic turn by Greg Castiglioni as Count Fosco, the evil friend of Sir Percival, who holds a high note when singing I can get away with anything, for a long time! Showing that good child actors can be seen on the London stage as well as in films, twelve-year old Rebecca Nardin held the stage confidently and sang sweetly in the small part of the Corn Dolly Girl.
In spite of its faults, this romantic musical is most enjoyable and a good alternative offer to the jollity otherwise around in this season of joy.
Until Feb 10. 08444 930 650; charingcrosstheatre.co.uk
Review by Carlie Newman