Review Roundup: THE BOYS IN THE PHOTOGRAPH

Here’s a roundup of reviews for the new South African production of The Boys in the Photograph, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Ben Elton’s revised version of their musical, The Beautiful Game. The reception to the show has been largely positive, with many reviews singling out the expansive mega-musical style set as a key feature of the production’s success, a somewhat ironic point of view when one considers that a great deal of the positive criticism of The Beautiful Game had to do with the fact that it was a less ornate production in terms of its design than many other Lloyd Webber shows receive. Most comments on the book and score are cursory, with Elton receiving none of the harsh criticism he was given in regard to his work on the original version of this show, although he is rapped over the knuckles for his rewritten happy ending. The only major debate, oddly, seems to be about the suitability of serious topics in musical theatre, an attitude which only betrays ignorance and a limited exposure to the genre.

Raves

Leon van Nierop at Artslink: The production is splendid but not everybody may be as enthusiastic as this critic. First of all it is a lavish production…. One just wishes that there had been more such imaginative and rousing staging of the soccer moves reinterpreted as a dance. But, granted, that is not what this rather dark musical is about…. During the first 30 minutes the audience gets what a great majority of them expected. A celebration of “the beautiful game” with a great score by Andrew Lloyd Webber although none of the songs went on to win classic audience-pleasing status as in many of his other musicals. A particular highlight here is the moving “God’s own Country” and its moving interpretation. But then the production addresses what Andrew Lloyd Webber actually had in mind: the confrontation between brother and brother, religion and religion, politics and ambition, war and peace. ….. The musical reminisces that every person is responsible for the way his or her life turns out…. Just know that this touching production and huge cast primarily address Irish issues which (at the end) are used as a parallel for South Africa’s own apartheid and violent past and current political uncertainty. An outstanding production, but not necessarily an audience pleaser.

(NOTE: What about what Ben Elton had in mind? The musical wasn’t created by Lloyd Webber alone and it’s a well documented fact that Elton has been something of a driving force behind the creation of this musical.)

Annette Bayne at The Citizen: Andrew Lloyd Webber and Ben Elton’s The Boys In The Photograph… is not quite about football although any one who loves soccer will love the opening song “The Beautiful Game”…. It’s not about South Africa either, but you can certainly pick up the parallels. And while many might not fully relate to a lesson in Irish history, you will feel your heart ache for the universality of this story. The music and lyrics are beautiful and the actors give a lot of heart. One of the most poignant things is the triumph of story over reality. As the narrative grows and the play gets longer, so to do the characters “age”…. Lloyd Webber knows how to rouse the blood with his stirring melodies and dangerous notes.

Mixed

Jennifer de Klerk at Artslink: The Boys in the Photograph… is a poignant and telling musical. I had no idea what to expect, except that anything that Andrew Lloyd Webber had a hand in must have something to recommend it…. The action takes a while to warm up…. Music dominates, especially the haunting flutes and Irish whistle…. There are no stand-out showstoppers here; nothing that you can whistle on the way home. Musically, this is not another Evita…. At the end we are given the headlines from The Belfast Telegraph of 2007, heralding the new order in Ireland – hope for the future and possibly an end to “the war that will never end”…. Should you see this? Definitely. It is extremely good theatre with a strong story and some excellent performances. Will it be memorable forever more – standing the test of time and sending shivers up your spine like the other great Lloyd Webber musicals? Perhaps not.

Trish Beaver at Artslink: Most musicals I know are light and fluffy and you leave with a song in your heart – this one is a little different! It may not be one of the better known musicals on the world stage but it is one of those that leaves you with an impression a bit like a Molotov cocktail…. The stunning changes in scenery and the poignant shifts in moods between a pub scene, a hotel bedroom and a stark jail are what makes this “musical” more of a drama. The backdrops and scenery was inspiring…. The balance of the scenes made this story work and the interplay of light and heavy moments….. For me this was a powerful potjiekos of thought-provoking elements that felt out of place in a musical, but it was a brilliantly executed bit of theatre that managed to send a very powerful message….

(NOTE: I thought the above review was rather poorly written and the reviewer seems ignorant in regard to how versatile musical theatre is as a dramatic form. Has Beaver never heard of any musicals with serious intentions?)

Diane de Beer at The Star Tonight: In some respects it scores perfect goals, kicking off with the expansive Engels design…. The songs allow for voices to soar… moving from rock to ballad. More often than not it is the soloists that are allowed to shine. There’s not that much ensemble singing or dancing, for that matter…. It is a sombre tale at best which lapses into sermonising towards the end…. And yet it’s a fascinating exercise attempted by Lloyd Webber and Elton as they create an original story and songs with the Northern Ireland troubles as a backdrop. There’s no familiar music for the audience to fall back on and even with some poignantly beautiful ballads, you’re not going to leave the auditorium humming…. This isn’t an easy one to stage, with many big and smaller moments that tell this tough story. On top of that, emotions are all over the place as the mood swings from hilarious to heart-wrenching faster than a light queue.

Peter Feldman at Artslink: This is no ordinary musical – it has political sting…. The Boys in the Photograph is not the sort of production that will leave you with musical memory makers, like past Andrew Lloyd Webber triumphs, but it does have some clout…. First, one is overawed by the remarkable set… Second, “The Boys in the Photograph” deals with an explosive subject and many of the scenes touch the soul because of their parallels with the South African situation. It was written 10 years ago as The Beautiful Game, but has undergone a name change and includes a South African World Cup reference unnecessarily tagged on at the end…. The show’s strong political theme, not the best subject around which to create a musical, jarred the senses as its rammed home its message time and time again. It became somewhat repetitive in its attack…. The story was conveyed through sharply written dialogue and a repertoire of not particularly memorable songs.

Lesley Stones at Artslink: The Boys in the Photograph is a fabulous piece of theatre, but don’t take your vuvuzela…. The stage sets for (the) musical get more rapturous applause than the cast itself…. For The Boys in the Photograph the scenery is simply the most elaborate and inventive I’ve ever seen…. This musical created by Andrew Lloyd Webber and comedian Ben Elton isn’t a show as much as an event. The songs range from stirring to poignant, the script is witty and insightful, Elton weaves wit throughout the plot and in the lyrics to his consistently powerful songs…. It’s a show with extremely limited appeal…. The show itself is incredibly good. It spans prejudice and morality, friendship to one versus kinship to all, the brutality of jail and the corruption of those who think they’re fighting a holy war. Strangely, Elton has re-written the script to give us a last-minute happy ending, which seems as unrealistic as expecting Bafana Bafana to win the World Cup.

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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