Review Roundup: THE BEAUTIFUL GAME

Here’s a roundup of reviews for the new Andrew Lloyd Webber and Ben Elton musical, The Beautiful Game. With few outright raves or pans, the show has met with a mixed reception overall, with some reviewers being more decidedly negative about the book and lyrics in particular than others.

Raves

John Peter at The Sunday Times: Andrew Lloyd Webber romps home with his finest piece of musical theatre ever. With this show, Andrew Lloyd Webber and his librettist, Ben Elton, have taken on a huge subject: real life, real death, real history, humanity at war with itself. The subject brings the best out of Andrew Lloyd Webber. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music has great sophistication as well as cunning theatricality and deep feeling. Elton’s book and lyrics burst with energy, indignation and intelligence. Brave and bitterly truthful… this show… need not fear comparison with West Side Story. Offhand, I cannot think of greater praise.

Georgina Brown at The Mail on Sunday: A bold, brave, commendable effort…. The choreography – the ballet of football, with every player ducking and diving, sniffing and spitting, kick-dancing and Riverdancing in his own way – is superb, the cast of match-fit youngsters have talent and energy and act their boots off (the Belfast accents are wonderfully lyrical), and the whole is staged with stark and striking simplicity and economy against black brick walls.

Mixed

Michael Coveney at The Daily Mail: A musical about a football team in Belfast in 1969 is almost as surprising a subject for a Lloyd Webber musical as, well, cats. But egged on by his latest lyricist, Ben Elton, Lloyd Webber now veers… to an even starker musical melodrama…. Elton’s narrative is clear, his lyrics commendably simple. But, oh, for a shaft of wit, or a lexicon to stop ‘sick of it’ rhyming with ‘cleaning kit’, ‘Casanova’ with ‘leg over’, or ‘piece of wood’ with, suitably enough, ‘not much good’. The show is distinguished by the inventive, ethereal beauty of the score, the spirit of a terrific young company and the staging of director Robert Carsen and choreographer Meryl Tankard. The title song is a thumping anthem derived from a football chant, the romantic songs are bare-bones simple with a Celtic strain… The set looks like a bomb site. We have murder, knee-capping, an internment camp, even a vomiting baby. Not an obvious, jolly musical night out, then, but a brave engaging and heartfelt one.

Michael Billington at The Guardian: After years of hyperinflated, through-composed musicals, we at last seem to be returning to stories. And even if The Beautiful Game, which teams the abrasive Ben Elton and the romantic Andrew Lloyd Webber, isn’t the greatest musical you’ll ever see, it has the signal virtue of telling its story through words as well as song…. The big question is whether a musical is capable of measuring up to the subject of Northern Ireland at the time of the exploding troubles. For large parts of the show, the answer is yes…. Where the musical doesn’t always measure up is in trying to dovetail private lives and public attitudes…. In the first half the joins are seamless…. But in the rebarbative second half… it becomes hard to swallow the climactic romanticism…. But, even if the musical falls at the last hurdle, it as at least trying something boldly different, and Lloyd Webber’s score, with its echoes of Irish folk and ballad music, is his best since Aspects of Love.

Charles Spencer at The Daily Telegraph: Working with Elton has certainly loosened Lloyd Webber up as both composer and producer. There is no overblown, gobsmacking spectacle here. The piece is staged with stark simplicity, on a bleak, bare stage where even the proscenium arch seems to have been damaged by a bomb blast. And although there are regrettable moments of Oirishry in the score, the music includes some of Lloyd Webber’s most haunting and memorable ballads. There are excellent numbers for both the mimed footballing scenes and the outbreaks of violence on the Belfast streets. Unfortunately, Elton, who is capable of subtlety and depth, can’t seem to spot a cliché here without rushing to embrace it like a long-lost friend. The narrative never takes you by surprise, with its stock teenage types, dialogue that might have come from Jackie magazine circa 1971, and alarmingly predictable plot twists. Worse still, the lyrics make Tim Rice seem like Cole Porter. Not a single rhyme is unexpected, not a single line delights with its elegance or wit… Yet for all its faults, The Beautiful Game is a show with real heart, and one moreover that might attract a young audience to see a West End musical that isn’t entirely mindless… Best of all, in its final moments this uneven, well-meaning show suddenly achieves a tremendous jolt of spine-tingling emotion.

Pans

Nicholas de Jongh at The Evening Standard: The Beautiful Game does not achieve an alluring musical mix of true love, football and sectarian politics. At least, though, Lloyd Webber refuses to rest on his gold-plated laurels. This is a musical show that makes a clear pitch for younger audiences, even if the idiom is, at best, very soft or tentative rock music. And it tells a powerful story of the dangers of fanaticism…. Lloyd Webber’s romanticism, however. often clashes with Elton’s coarse realism. The composer’s soulful, yearning music, that throbs with lyrical rather than violent potential, also has to cope with Elton’s ludicrous love lyrics, ranging from the accidentally vulgar to the ridiculous…. Lloyd Webber is far more musically at home with these lush, sentimental appeals to true romance, with Irish jigs and airs echoing in his score…. Robert Carsen’s well-drilled and paced production cannot disguise the fact that Elton’s book allows dull romancing to overwhelm a brave, sharp shot at a controversial, politically motivated musical.

Purchases from Amazon.com

FROM LEFT TO RIGHT: 1. The Beautiful Game Original London Cast CD. 2. The Beautiful Game Vocal Selections.

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