Guy Noble shares the story of putting together a new version of The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber.
October 1996, Melbourne musical theatre fans, hooked on Jesus Christ Superstar, Cats and The Phantom of the Opera, were eagerly anticipating the latest mega-musical from Andrew Lloyd Webber. Tragedy struck the day before the opening night of Sunset Boulevard when Musical Director Brian Stacey was killed in a motorcycle accident. Guy Noble, first recipient of the Brian Stacey memorial Trust, is still affected by that difficult time.
Rehearsals for the new staging of The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber are in their final week before Sunday’s opening night. Speaking by phone from the Regent Theatre, where Sunset Boulevard played in 1996-97, Noble acknowledges the connection to Stacey immediately. “I’m sitting in the company office and this was Brian Stacey’s old dressing room. I always feel a bit spooked when I come to the Regent. I always feel a connection to Brian.”
Beginning as associate conductor, Noble went on to conduct the season. “Sunset Boulevard was so dark and dramatic. No matter what you were feeling at the time, the opening with Joe’s body floating in the pool always affected you.”
Noble’s connection to Stacey’s music-making continued in a tangible way when Stacey’s partner Kathryn Sadler graciously allowed Noble to have Stacey’s conducting batons. “I used these for many years. The last one broke on John Diedrich’s leg during South Pacific in Melbourne. I always thought Brian would have been amused by that!”
Two key songs from Sunset Boulevard will be performed by the headlining performers in The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber. Michael Cormick will sing the title number and Delia Hannah will perform “With One Look.”
Noble lived in the UK from 1987-1991, a period when Phantom mania was at its zenith. He shared his recollections of that time. “Well, Phantom was a phenomenon. It still is. I had friends in London recently and they couldn’t get tickets. There really is something about that show. Andrew has described it as the perfect show, not referring specifically to his music but to the way it all came together, including the work of Hal Prince.
“The character of the Phantom really intrigues audiences. People don’t realise that the character is only on stage for about 20 minutes. The character can be scaring people on stage while the actor is in his dressing room having a cup of tea!” Noble conducted the 2006-09 Australian tour of The Phantom of the Opera.
The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber as an entity has been around for many years. The premiere in Melbourne this week is a brand new presentation that has been put together by Noble and Director Stuart Maunder. “Stuart and I spent hours going over songs and putting together audio tracks. There is more music than ever before – we could have done two of these concerts.”
Noble explained that with permission from London they have mixed up the usual style of the concert. “These things are normally done show by show. The audience will enjoy the sheer surprise of the order of the songs. We have some amazing segues.” Noble gave a preview of one of these segues; the night will end with two of the biggest hits when “Music of the Night” leads on to “Superstar.”
“This is the first time there has been a medley from Cats. All eight performers have the chance to be a cat! Delia will end act one with ‘Memory’.”
Noble is full of praise for the cast that has been assembled. “We have high sopranos, great tenors – they really make a wonderful sound when they sing all together. And they are a fantastic bunch of people.” Doing a show as an ensemble is a unique opportunity for actors who have mostly played lead roles. “Actors love to be part of a company.”
The upcoming Phantom sequel Love Never Dies, also to play at the Regent, will be previewed. The title number, sung by Christine in the show, will be sung, as will the Phantom’s “Till I Hear You Sing”. “The Coney Island Waltz” will be played by the orchestra, as will the classic “Jellicle Ball” from Cats.
Other well-known shows represented include Starlight Express, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and a bracket of songs from Evita. A first for Australia will be selections from the 1998 West End musical Whistle Down the Wind, including the title number and “The Vaults of Heaven” as well as a boy band rendition of “No Matter What” (true ALW tragics may know that Boyzone had a 1998 hit with “No Matter What”)
Noble has the highest admiration for the achievements of Andrew Lloyd Webber. “Just in terms of the sheer spread of music, let alone the volume, he is the most successful composer of all time. He has written an astonishing amount of music and it’s all very good.”
The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber plays at the Regent Theatre, Melbourne 19 – 27 March before touring Australasia. Bookings are through Ticketmaster.