Webber’s most recent stage projects had been failures, but I consider this show to be the point at which it became clear that something was seriously wrong. The source material, Wilkie Collins’ gothic novel of the same name, offered a cliché-bound, stock melodrama plot with too many similarities to earlier Webber works, but what really did this show in was the tepid music, easily Webber’s least interesting score to date.
Webber was presumably going for his Aspects of Love approach, where the individual numbers aren’t emphasized and the show plays as a free-flowing whole rather than as a collection of songs. But Aspects worked with that approach because of its sheer wealth of beautiful melody; here, it just comes off as a handful of pleasant but forgettable songs separated by endless stretches of tuneless quasi-recitative.
That’s not to say that some of the numbers aren’t pretty. The lengthy trio sequence “Perspective”/“Trying Not to Notice”, the sad ballad “Evermore Without You”, Maria Friedman’s solos “All for Laura” and “If Not for Me, for Her”, and “A Gift for Living Well” for the character played by Michael Crawford in London and Michael Ball on Broadway, are all rather nice, and apart from a misguided dissonant arrangement of “The Holly and the Ivy”, the score is never hard to listen to.
But nothing ever really lands, and the centerpieces are especially disappointing. “I Believe My Heart”, the big love theme, sounds like Webber on autopilot, with an uninspired, obvious melody and a lyric that worsens the problem by echoing “Seeing Is Believing”, a better love duet from a better Webber show. And the eleven-o’clock showstopper, “You Can Get Away With Anything”, isn’t a showstopper at all; it’s a pleasantly undistinguished little charm tune that Crawford (and later Ball) had to force into a showstopper by overselling it.
I don’t know what happened to Webber; Whistle Down the Wind and The Beautiful Game may have been, essentially, flops, but they were the kind of flops that happen to everyone from time to time. Things like The Woman In White, Love Never Dies, and that idiotic notion of writing additional songs for The Wizard of Oz seem genuinely unworthy of a talent like Webber.