There are no crashing chandeliers from the theater ceilings, no levitating junkyard tires with cats aboard, nor Sunday school-level biblical stories embellished with ersatz rock music themes to appeal to the pubescent and high hormone generations, but in Flat Rock Playhouse’s current music revue, “Music of the Night: The Songs of Andrew Lloyd Webber,” there is enough energy and skill among the four strong-voiced soloists to rivet the attention of the most skeptical musical snob.
OK, so Sir Andrew, or latterly Lord Lloyd Webber, is not everyone’s cup of tea. Often the tunes are kitschy and formulaic, based on the most simplistic aspects of various musical genres. The emotion is worn on the sleeve and the power is as often the result of lush orchestrations and musical gimmicks, even borrowing from classical composers such as Bach, Brahms, Mendelssohn, Strauss, Ravel and Puccini.
And those soaring, clear melodies of pathos and irreplaceable loss are much more Puccini than Dolly Parton.
One would have to be emotionally deficient not to be moved by Lloyd Webber’s “Memory” or “Music of the Night.” This prolific composer has written a score of shows, many quite mediocre, with only about eight getting any traction or taken flight, and a couple of those — “Starlight Express” and “Aspects of Love” — remain little known. Even “Sunset Boulevard” and “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” are not ranked high in the musical theater echelon of hits.
But when the biggies of the 1970s and ’80s hit the stage, they established long run records in both London’s West End and on Broadway. We won’t soon forget “The Phantom of the Opera,” “Cats,” “Evita” or “Jesus Christ Superstar,” and those sumptuous melodies of “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina,” “I Don’t Know How to Love Him,” “The Music of the Night,” “As if We Never Said Goodbye,” “Memory” and “All I Ask of You.”
Lloyd Webber at his best ranks high in his tuneful creations, and even his rock opera kitsch, calypso, country, tango and Elvis-like silliness are clever and creative.
Flat Rock Playhouse has a long and fine tradition of doing musical revues and juke box musicals. “Music of the Night uses only a little patter between songs but might wisely have given the audience a tad more context for some of the material.
While the audience was informed that Lloyd Webber had written a Requiem Mass in Latin, in memory of his father, a church musician, and the “Pie Jesu” from this Mass was nicely performed in the first act, immediately following it was a quite puzzling, non-vocal bit of an instrumental performance by the seven stage musicians. With no lyrics or vocal or verbal explication, the instrumental presentation of a variant of a familiar Paganini variation-on-a-theme was puzzling unless you knew that the then-Sir Andrew had arranged or written it.
Although the four primary solo singers are stage veterans who know stage movement, and execute it well, there is little staging in the common use of the word — no set changes nor actual scenery. The backdrop is a series of nine columnar curtains, lighted from below, with much light changing, in lieu of changes of set. The seven musicians are led by Asheville’s Lenora Thom, who well directs from her keyboard on stage right.
The singers are all strong voiced and ably trained, though at times a bit shrill. Flat Rock is known for high-volume amplification from their splendid sound system, and they have cranked it up under the supervision of sound designer Kurt Conway. Those talented vocalists who can sensitively interpret both Lloyd Webber’s tender tunes and big blasts include Lindsay O’Neil, Julie Foldesi, Jason Wooten and Guy Lemonnier, all with lots of NYC and nation tour exposure.
A somewhat unusual aspect of the production is an intermittent side-stage chorus, who carefully flow on and off risers outside the proscenium and offer more volume to the already audible proceedings. Billed as the Flat Rock Chorus with 30-some names in the program, there were never more than 24 bodies on the sidelines at once. The show is tautly directed by Matthew Glover with production management by Adam Goodrum. That creative lighting in lieu of scenery was overseen by CJ Barnwell.
The kind of people who like this kind of thing will love this loud and lyrical presentation.
Contact Jim Cavener at firstname.lastname@example.org.
IF YOU GO
What: “The Music of the Night: The Songs of Andrew Lloyd Webber”
When: 2 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday and 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, through Sept, 3.
Where: Flat Rock Playhouse Mainstage, 2661 Greenville Highway, Flat Rock.
Tickets: $15-$50 via flatrockplayhouse.org or 828-693-0731.
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