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Review Roundup: STEPHEN WARD Opens in the West End- UPDATED!

Photo by Nobby Clark

Stephen Ward, which has music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and book and lyrics by playwright Christopher Hamptonand lyricist Don Black, opens tonight, 19 December 2013 at the Aldwych Theatre, directed by Richard Eyre.

The cast comprises Alexander Hanson as Stephen Ward, Charlotte Spencer as Christine Keeler, Charlotte Blackledge as MAndy Rice Davies, Anthony Calf as Lord Astor, Daniel Flynn as John Profumo, Joanna Riding as Valerie Hobson, Ian Conningham as Ivanov, Chris Howell as Murray, Ricardo Coke Thomas as Lucky Gordon and Wayne Robinson as Johnny Edgecombe.

1963. The scandal that shocked society. Stephen Ward charts the rise and fall from grace of the society osteopath. The musical centres on Ward's involvement with the young and beautiful Christine Keeler and their chance meeting in a West End night club which led to one of the biggest political scandals and trials of the 20th century.

Let's see what the critics had to say...

Michael Billington, The Guardian: ...much as I admire the musical's good intentions and professional skill, Lloyd Webber's instinctive romanticism sits oddly with a social and political critique...if the show is intended as a blistering attack on the British Establishment's victimisation of Stephen Ward, it is only partly successful. Alexander Hanson plays Ward excellently as a suave fixer who enjoyed knowing everyone and even imagining that he was a vital conduit for MI5. But, for all Hanson's commanding presence, we never get to fully understand Ward's character: his sexuality, given his strangely platonic relationship with Keeler, remains a mystery.

Charles Spencer, The Telegraph: Since he parted company with Tim Rice, Andrew Lloyd Webber's musicals have hardly been famous for their wit...So his new musical about the Profumo affair comes as a delightful surprise...there is also a sense of mischief about the piece, that finds this sometimes po-faced composer coming up with numbers in a rich variety of styles, so that the familiar yearning anthems are interspersed with songs of wit and fun. Several of the tunes are instantly catchy too...Alexander Hanson is superb as Ward - charming, witty and handsome, but with a disconcerting hint of something less wholesome beneath. He sings superbly, too. Charlotte Spencer touchingly captures the initial gaucheness and vulnerability of Christine Keeler while Charlotte Blackledge plays MAndy Rice-Davies with a winning spark.

David Benedict, Variety: Here's the mystery surrounding Andrew Lloyd Webber's new tuner "Stephen Ward": How could the fallout from Britain's most notorious real-life sex-and-politics scandal have been turned into something so flaccid? The cast do their level best and sing well but neither the meandering, below-par songs nor the slack storytelling create tension. Prior to opening, there was much internet chatter about the undramatic nature of the title. Sadly, lack of drama turns out to be the hallmark of the show.

Paul Taylor, The Independent: This uneven musical play, with a book by Christopher Hampton and sometimes clod-hopping lyrics by Don Black, puts Alexander Hanson's louche, beautifully sung Ward centre stage as narrator and protagonist and lets him mount his own defence...Lloyd Webber's eclectic score has its witty touches and the odd surge of poignancy...But in the process of laudably trying to clear Ward's name, the show runs the risk of sanitising him. His platonic relationship with Keeler is romanticised in a way that downplays the seedy voyeurism and his use of the girl as bait.

Stephen Dalton, The Hollywood Reporter: With such experienced heavy-hitters behind it, Stephen Ward is inevitably a handsomely mounted production that motors along with the fine-tuned precision of a vintage Bentley. Featuring a brief flash of female nudity, some four-letter lyrics and even a riotous orgy, the mise-en-scene is risque by Lloyd Webber's standards. But the show is otherwise fairly staid and conventional, relying heavily on stereotypical depictions of the uptight English, perennially obsessed with class and sex, fatally torn between prudishness and prurience. For these reasons, this polished mix of bedroom farce and courtroom tragedy may prove too parochial for foreign audiences and international transfers.

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