Tacoma Musical Playhouse is staging a revue consisting of songs by Andrew Lloyd Webber, who has been dubbed “the most commercially successful composer in history” by none other than the New York Times. During his illustrious career, London-born Lloyd Webber composed 13 musicals, a song cycle, a set of variations, two film scores and a Latin Requiem Mass. Many of his songs have taken on lives of their own as hits outside of their parent musicals: “The Music of the Night” and “All I Ask of You” from “Phantom of the Opera,” “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” from “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” from “Evita,” “Any Dream Will Do” from “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” and “Memory” from “Cats.”
Lloyd Webber has received a bevy of awards, including a knighthood in 1992, six Tonys, three Grammys (including the Grammy Legend Award), an Academy Award, a Golden Globe and the 2006 Kennedy Center Honors, to name but a few. He is one of only 15 people to have won an Emmy, Oscar, Grammy and Tony.
As noted opening night by TMP’s Managing Artistic Director Jon Douglas Rake, some of Lloyd Webber’s musicals are still not available to local theaters. The composer’s songbook, however, is available. Theater companies like TMP can select 20 songs from the registry to assemble a revue-style show.
TMP’s “The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber” brings together song and dance numbers from some of Lloyd Webber’s best known musicals (like “Cats,” “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” “Evita” and “Phantom of the Opera”) in addition to songs from some of his lesser known musicals (like “Song & Dance,” “Starlight Express,” “Love Never Dies,” “Sunset Boulevard,” “Whistle Down the Wind” and “Aspects of Love”).
The talents of the vocal performers – Jonathan Bill, Biffy Binkley, Diane Bozzo, Mauro Bozzo, Russell Campbell, Brandon Hell, Allyson Jacobs-Lake and Beth Lazarou – are brought front and center. Their talents are augmented on stage by the addition of the dancers: Sarahlynn Mangan, Summer Mays, Angela Morgan, Whitney Shafer, Madison Watkins and Madison Wingerter-Ripley.
For my money, TMP’s costume department – with designer Janet English and assistants Scott Mattsen, Grace Stone and Margot Webb – gets high marks. I always enjoy TMP costumes featuring a heightened color sense and an artistic inventiveness that sometimes pushes toward the surreal. The costumes add a splash of zest that helps in the maintenance of audience interest. In this type of revue, the fashion show aspect of the costumes is exquisite. From the skintight outfits of the “Jellicle Ball” dance from “Cats” to the elegant, sequined ballroom wear of “Love Changes Everything” from “Aspects of Love,” the outfits are great with few exceptions.
Musically, the production on opening night was not uniformly even. There were times when the onstage, 12-piece orchestra felt less than energetic in delivery. During Allyson Jacobs-Lake’s solo performance of “I Don’t Know How to Love Him,” from “Jesus Christ Superstar,” the tempo of the orchestra felt rushed, so that Jacobs-Lake could not linger over some of the lush lyrics of the song, thus robbing it of its emotional potential.
The heart of the show is the first half of the second act, when the audience is treated to four songs from “Phantom of the Opera,” the longest running show in Broadway history. Here, the show’s strongest vocalists are featured. The great revelation of this show is the talent of Biffy Binkley, a Pacific Lutheran University graduate who is making her debut TMP appearance.
Binkley has all of the ingredients to be a star: an expressive and supple voice with wide range. She can fill her songs with emotional content and she has an attractive stage presence. Her solo performance of “Think of Me” was the high point of the show.
This was followed soon thereafter with the love duet “All I Ask of You” from “Phantom of the Opera,” which was performed by mahogany-voiced Brandon Hell and Jacobs-Lake. The latter is a singer that I’ve been eager to hear again ever since her performance as Truly Scrumptious in “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” in 2015. Jacobs-Lake’s high vibrato flows rich and creamy through the theatrical space.
This season, TMP audiences have been able to enjoy the skill and the charm of Madison Wingerter-Ripley, a great up and coming actress, singer and dancer. For this production, she functioned as co-choreographer and dance captain. The audience gets to see her as everything from a sensual cat, to a barefoot Egyptian dancing girl, to a roller-skating diva and, finally, as a lounge singer. In the latter guise, as part of the finale performance of “Love Changes Everything,” Wingerter-Ripley is dressed in a form-fitting gown of black and silver sequins.
Unfortunately, Tacoma is going to lose this rising star, who is due to make the move to New York in order to continue to perform in musical theater in the “big leagues.”
Between Binkley and Wingerter-Ripley, TMP’s “The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber” welcomes a new talent and bids farewell to one that we have come to know all too briefly.
The production runs through Feb. 24. For tickets, scheduling and other information, visit www.tmp.org.