Neither the first, half-forgotten DC production from the Nineties nor the 2007 vaguely Broadway-bound U.S. tour actually reached Broadway, but this show’s flop status in the U.S. is, to be completely honest, more genuinely deserved than its modest success in the UK; Webber shows tend to be hits in London simply because of the Webber name, whereas he’s always needed a good show to have a hit in America.
The show was an odd idea, based on a semi-classic English film about a mysterious stranger who might be Jesus, or he might be an escaped serial killer, and the struggles between the children who shelter him and the adults who try to hunt him down. Still, it could conceivably have worked…I can name half a dozen successful musicals with weirder premises off the top of my head, and I’m sure you can too. I think what did it in was overmusicalization: the show is almost sung-through, but there’s very little sung dialogue advancing the plot, with most of the songs being self-contained “numbers” that stop the action cold. With so much of the show devoted to this stop-and-sing material, the actual plot had to be rushed through around the edges, and while that may work in some shows, it doesn’t work for an idea this odd, and the show ends up being off-putting and emotionally confusing.
Still, you’d expect the greatest compensations in such a show to be musical, and you wouldn’t be wrong. This show teams Webber with rock composer Jim Steinman, who provided the lyrics and, according to some plausible-seeming rumors, a few portions of the music as well. The two composers have a significant intersection among their fanbases, so I’m not the only person who viewed this as his own personal Elvis-meets-the-Beatles. Granted, neither of them is at their absolute best here: there are a few weak songs and one outright floppo number, the dreadful “Annie Christmas”.
But the bulk of the score is excellent, and Steinman’s lyrics are some of the best in any Webber show. The two most beautiful songs, “No Matter What” and “A Kiss Is a Terrible Thing to Waste” actually did some hit tune business, which was almost unheard-of for a show tune at that point. The title song is ravishing, and there are two more lovely ballads, “If Only” and “Try Not to Be Afraid”.
The mysterious Jesus/serial killer figure gets a superb solo called “Unsettled Scores”, whose lyrics make sense no matter which one you believe him to be. The menacing music for the parents is suitably terrifying, and the songs for the kids, including the catchy anthem “When Children Rule the World”, have genuine charm. The score is less successful when it ventures into outright rock, but “Tire Tracks and Broken Hearts” is a fine Steinmanesque teen-rebel anthem, and “Cold” is a lot of fun (“They’re evacuatin’ Satan, who’s waitin’ for Hell to freeze over”).
This show began a string of failures for Webber, but it’s hardly the disaster some make it out to be, and it wouldn’t become clear until later just how far off course Webber was headed.