New musicals are always exciting and terrifying, as one never knows what will stick with the public or whether critics will kill the new work with a slam-bam-pan. And then there are the ones that don't click with the audience but find a soft spot with reviewers. Such is the case with Stephen Ward, the new musical offering from Andrew Lloyd Webber. The show opened before Christmas 2013 and has now shuttered, as of March 29, 2014, at the Alywych Theatre in London's West End. A 90-day run for a musical that received good reviews, had music by Sir Andrew, a book and lyrics penned by the accomplished Don Black and Christopher Hampton, a pomp political potboiler retro-storyline, and starred film, theatre, and TV veteran Alexander Hanson -- how does that happen? It certainly causes an eyebrow to be raised.
The piece is serious in tone, exploring the miscarriage of justice surrounding the soaring popularity and subsequent plummeting into political scandal of John Profumo, the Secretary of State for War during the early 1960s in England. A sub-plot of spying and impropriety, amid the allegedly lurid liaison between Profumo and a teenage model provided all the tension and drama one could hope for in a breakout musical. Add to that the bizarre connection to Stephen Ward, who was a friend of the model and a Soviet naval attaché, and the common link to Profumo, and the story becomes the stuff that makes a musical tick -- not unlike the underbelly themes of Lloyd Webber's Evita. What's more: how about a drug-induced suicide by the lead character who found himself a scapegoat and victim of political vengeance? Good stuff, right?
After 2.5 million British pounds are invested into the musical, all that is left, for now, are some lovely and suggestive video clips that might provide insight into why the musical closed after a 3-month run. If the musical had been fashioned as more of a satirical stab, perhaps the tired tale would have caught on with audiences. Where are Kander and Ebb when you need them? Instead, the creators brought their skill and artistry to the production and left behind the fire and passion necessary to make people care about a story that no longer resonates and historically resolved very sadly and very badly. Indeed, when it comes to a story about political revenge during the Cold War with sexual indiscretions -- maybe, just maybe, audiences have seen this story one too many times.