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BWW Album Review: ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER UNMASKED: THE PLATINUM COLLECTION Packs Gems Within Its Density

BWW Album Review: ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER UNMASKED: THE PLATINUM COLLECTION Packs Gems Within Its Density
Cover art for the 4 disc version of ANDREW
LLOYD WEBBER UNMASKED: THE
PLATINUM COLLECTION.
Courtesy of UMe / Polydor.

For many, musical theater and Andrew Lloyd Webber are synonymous. Whether you love him or hate him, there is no denying that his music has been influential within and outside of the world of musical theater. To celebrate the prolific composer's 70th birthday, UMe / Polydor has released Andrew Lloyd Webber UNMASKED: THE PLATINUM COLLECTION, a sprawling and somewhat bloated 4-disc compendium of music personally curated and overseen by Lloyd Webber himself.

Lloyd Webber's THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA was my first theatrical obsession. In many ways, it was my gateway drug to the art form that is musical theatre. Yet, when Ume / Polydor first announced this set (in both its 2 CD and 4 CD versions), I was immediately skeptical. Between releases like Andrew Lloyd Webber: NOW & FOREVER (2001), GOLD: THE DEFINITIVE HIT SINGLES COLLECTION (2001), and Andrew Lloyd Webber 60 (2008), I just didn't see how there was room on store shelves or the iTunes cloud for yet another collection of Lloyd Webber's music. For casual or fair-weather Lloyd Webber fan, this collection probably won't merit a purchase. For diehards though, or for those who don't own one of the aforementioned sets, this collection could definitely be a must own.

Across the 71 tracks spanning four hours and 46 minutes, the songs you expect to find on Andrew Lloyd Webber UNMASKED: THE PLATINUM COLLECTION are all there. From Murray Head singing "Superstar" and Ian Gillan belting "Gethsemane" to Marti Webb's indelible performance of "Take That Look Off Your Face" and Elaine Paige's glorious "Rainbow High," there isn't a single greatest hit missing. This set also includes the best songs from later works, namely "Stick It to the Man" from SCHOOL OF ROCK, "I'm Hopeless When It Comes to Loving You" from STEPHEN WARD, "Evermore Without You" from THE WOMAN IN WHITE, and "'Til I Hear You Sing" from LOVE NEVER DIES.

Yet, what makes this collection special and unique are the sometimes-quirky little surprising gems that found their way into the track list. For instance, the version of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA's "The Music of the Night" included is the music video version which features different lyrics than what we hear on stage. We're treated to Michael Crawford's resplendent singing of the track in all of its glory, but our ears do stumble over the words that seem out of place after 30+ years of hearing Charles Hart's rewrites. Lloyd Webber must have a soft spot for these pre-Hart lyrics, but he oddly chose not to remind listeners that Colm Wilkinson tackled the song in the presentation at Lloyd Webber's own theatre at Sydmonton before Crawford became known around the world for this role.

Randomly, the collection also dips one singular toe into Lloyd Webber's pop music writing with "It's Easy for You" as sung by Elvis Presley. This inclusion is then supported with a smattering of pop covers of Lloyd Webber's musical pieces. But, it is the newly recorded and newly released ones that make this collection a cut above the rest. Pop diva Nicole Scherzinger's iteration of "Memory," arguably the only aspect of the CATS revival that made it seem like an artistically sound idea, is lush and lovely. Acclaimed jazz-singer Gregory Porter brings palpable life and energy to "Light at the End of the Tunnel" from STARLIGHT EXPRESS. Lana Del Rey, the reigning queen of the breathy chanteuse style, delivers a spectacularly flawless rendition of "You Must Love Me" from EVITA. Then, the stunning live performance of "Learn to Be Lonely" from the film adaption of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA by Beyoncé serves as a magnificent icing on this delicious, but extremely dense, cake.

The 'new' music doesn't stop there on this set though. In fact, there are five newly arranged orchestral suites for this release. The fourth disc, which is the home base for orchestral pieces, showcases "Phantom Phantasy," "Love Never Dies Orchestral Suite" (try not to confuse the repeated melodies with thematic motifs from THE WOMAN IN WHITE-it's quite difficult), "Variations on Variations," "Overture and The Beautiful Game," and "Sunset Suite." While each of these showcase different aspects of Lloyd Webber's writing, I'd wager the ones from his more popular shows are the ones listeners will gravitate to. The familiarity and awe that is inspired by hearing the quintessential motifs from THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA really sells "Phantom Phantasy." Likewise, "Sunset Suite" sparkles with its use of those gooey, cinematic orchestrations that make the show itself so wonderful, even if some of the choppy transitions seem like they were made by a novice sound designer playing on a freeware program like Audacity.

BWW Album Review: ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER UNMASKED: THE PLATINUM COLLECTION Packs Gems Within Its Density
The four disc version of Andrew Lloyd Webber UNMASKED:
THE PLATINUM COLLECTION.
Courtesy of UMe / Polydor.

Impressively, this one four-disc collection adequately covers Lloyd Webber's remarkable five-decade career while also celebrating his 70th year of life. It also gives listeners an insight into what the world can expect from the live concert presentation of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR on NBC on Easter Sunday (April 1, 2018) with Alice Cooper's whimsical rendition of "King Herod's Song." His cheerful malice on the track actually makes his take on the tune my favorite from the plethora I've heard. Bottom line, there's a lot to love about this collection, but being a lot is not always its strength.

UMe / Polydor's Andrew Lloyd Webber UNMASKED: THE PLATINUM COLLECTION is available for purchase from iTunes, Amazon, and elsewhere music is sold.


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From This Author David Clarke

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