The world's most well known musical theatre composer dabbles in debauchery…


Aspects of Love is a seldom-performed work, by arguably the world’s most commercially successful musical theatre composer, Andrew Lloyd Webber.   The title conjures images of romantic rendezvous however the story deals with relationships that are more debaucherous in nature.  Love triangles, mate swaps, bisexual forays and the slightly more disturbing cradle rocking, quasi-incest themes abound.  Aspects of Love strips back the fluff and tells it how it is.  If it’s big bangs (of the pyrotechnical variety that is!), overblown costumes, magic tricks and roller-skates you’re after, then you’ll find none of that here.  Lloyd Webber has thrown off the big budget shackles of Starlight Express and Phantom for this theatrical outing and he’s created something that’s a truly intimate experience… in more ways that one.

Director Shaun Kingma is clearly passionate about this project and he’s adamant that the detail is what really drives him.  He prides himself on it.  For months, I’ve watched him pour over the script, trying to make sense of the mammoth task in front of him.  He all to often agonises over curtains, of which there are many, and how to seamlessly engineer their transition throughout.  He spends days examining set pieces from every angle and from time to time, seeks advice on a scene change or a set piece.  He’s so hung up on detail, I wonder if he may occasionally lose sight of the big picture.  I’ve since learnt that Kingma interprets a show like a high powered computer… pixel by pixel.  One tiny piece out of place and he sees a gaping hole, and he’s unable to continue until the issue is resolved. 

New York critics were not especially kind to Aspects of Love. It’s been referred to as ''shocking'' and many found the show to be pretty dull. ''The characters are passive” one reviewer jeered. ''Where's the drama?'' another complained.  But it wasn’t all bad.  Clive Barnes of the New York Post raved about Lloyd Webber's ''deliciously sensual piece of music theater.'' Other critics since have suggested that it’s the finest show he’s ever written and it had long and successful run on the West End before transferring to Broadway. But the man with the last word, Frank Rich of The New York Times, wrote ''an earnest but bizarre career decision.'' After noting the musical's theme of ''romance in many naughty guises,'' he declared that ''it generates about as much heated passion as a visit to the bank.''

Kingma explains “Aspects follows the lives of five people and how their paths intertwine and disconnect over a twenty-year period. They fall in and out of love, lust, betrayal, and hurt whilst trying to find a common ground with each other and themselves. It examines the many types of “love” one can experience in a lifetime or in an instant, simultaneously – some uplifting, or soaring. Many are ultimately destructive. ”

He’s determined to remain true to the script and the characters and is committed to producing an authentic work.  It’s not a perfect show, these are not perfect people, but to coin a phrase “that’s life”.   According to Kingma, the show moves at a cracking pace, not so much the script or the music (which as it’s sung through has also been accused of musically notating something as mundane as passing the peas) but the sheer number of scenes and scene changes.  For those of us out there that appreciate the technical precision to pull off such a challenge, it’s worth the ticket price just for that.

Then of course, there’s the confronting sexual liaisons involving so many of the characters, from garden variety orgies to the more salacious. Nothing new I hear you say?  Rent, Hair and a swag of others incorporate overtly sexual themes, whilst the whole younger-girl-older-man idea has been around since Gigi. Let’s not forget the classic “Thank Heaven For Little Girls” which, though not the intention of Lerner and Lowe, in this day and age takes on a devious tone.  In Aspects of Love I’m told this is downplayed somewhat and lots of potentially offensive content is wrapped up in drama.  It’s not the same kind of sophisticated wit that makes it acceptable for Fredrick in A Little Night Music to marry Anne, a woman half his age and for his son Henrik to have romantic feelings for her, despite the fact that she is his step mother.  I’m presently unconvinced but curious as to how it will all play out on stage.  I’ve never seen any show successfully downplay incest and pedophilia, as it’s usually presented as a shocking exclamation point, as part of a vicious rape or some similarly disturbing scenario.

Lloyd Webber was originally developing the work as part of a film, and noted “Tim Rice had been sent the book and a film was being planned to which we were possibly to contribute songs. Some time later, we felt it was an interesting subject for us to write, particularly as it was so different from Evita and I had just finished Tell Me On A Sunday, which was not so very far in scale from how I imagined Aspects.”

Here’s a little known fact.  The epic number “Music of the Night” was originally written for Aspects.  Yep… true.  Lloyd Webber continued  “During the course of Cats rehearsals, I gave the book to Trevor Nunn, who was delighted with it. In 1983, we presented a “cabaret” of some songs we wrote together for a possible full-length musical. But these songs did not work either. I often feel that I was trying to impose a big, grandiose, romantic style onto the novel and in fact a fair amount of the music of the cabaret became The Phantom of the Opera.”

So Lloyd Webber chopped and changed whilst simultaneously working on Aspects and Phantom, shelving Aspects several times through the process. “It was a little before the completion of Phantom that I realised that I wanted to change direction sharply in my next work. Thus I returned to the Garnett novel and in the company of Don Black, who I had worked with on Tell Me On A Sunday, and Charles Hart, with whom I was completing Phantom, we decided to try once more.”

As always, CLOC will be throwing their proven technical and creative might behind this very risky venture.  Will it pay off for them? We’ll see… What I can guarantee is that Aspects will get tongues wagging.  You also won’t see a better version of this show for some time to come.  It promises to be visually appealing and with a cast packed full of talent, including Blake Testro, Zak Brown, Rosa McCarty and Lauren Elise, the on stage action will not fail to please. There will be a tonne of Oklahomas and A Chorus Lines in the years to come, but Aspects promises to be a truly unique experience, worthy of investigation. 



Check out the video from dress rehearsals!