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Lloyd Webber, in Context and With Few Distractions


Petula Clark may be what gets people in the door for another listen to "The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber," but once there, they'll find much more.

This touring concert show--which has passed through the area before with Sarah Brightman and Michael Crawford--comes with no set design to speak of, and a minimum of choreography or other musical staging. Yet, happily, this ends up focusing attention on the music itself, in electric performances by the regular cast of 12 singer-dancers, as well as Clark, recent headliner in a "Sunset Boulevard" tour, who joined the show last week in San Diego and continues, through Sunday, at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium.

Unlike many musical revues, which lift songs out of shows and attempt to present them in new contexts, this more straightforward concert format presents 20 Lloyd Webber songs in blocks of two or three numbers from each musical, often introduced by an overture. Left in their original settings, the songs retain their meaning and power, and as accompanied by the the 28-piece Philharmonia Europa, with a hint of electric guitar among the highfalutin strings and other orchestral instruments, the compositions reveal a strong classical influence that isn't always evident when listeners are distracted by crashing chandeliers or levitating Sunset Boulevard mansions.

The songs are presented pretty much in chronological order, from the more obviously rock-influenced "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" and "Jesus Christ Superstar" of the late '60s/early '70s, through the more operatic "Phantom of the Opera" and "Sunset Boulevard" of the '80s and '90s. This edition also includes the title number from the late '90s "Whistle Down the Wind," though nothing from Lloyd Webber's newest, "The Beautiful Game."


Clark, whose recording of "Downtown" made such a strong impression in the '60s, takes a daring approach to many of her solos, breaking phrases in unusual places, speaking key words and throwing in little pop trills. What's more, she acts each number with as much commitment as if she were performing in a full production of each show.

Though her first solos came out a bit strangled at Tuesday's opening, her voice warmed throughout the performance, and at the end of the first half, she delivered what was, arguably, her strongest number: "Don't Cry for Me Argentina," from "Evita." The song is Evita's balcony speech to throngs of Argentines, and Clark freely spoke its most impassioned lines, including a simple, declarative "I love you" that would have made just about anyone take up the crowd's call of "Evi-i-i-ta, Evi-i-i-ta."

Clark's second-half performances of Norma Desmond's songs from "Sunset Boulevard" were filled with all the truth and fragile grace she brought to last year's local performances of the musical, from the calculated flirtatiousness and gaiety of "The Perfect Year" to the breathless wonder of "As If We Never Said Goodbye."

As company members took turns singing the concert's other big solos, they usually proved to be Clark's equals. Mark Rinzel sent a jolt of pure electricity through the auditorium as he growled and screamed through rock-star renditions of the "Jesus Christ Superstar" title song and Jesus' defiant cry to the heavens in "Gethsemane." And, ripping a page from the Michael Crawford songbook, Brian Charles Rooney sang "Phantom's" "Music of the Night" with the sort of whispered bel canto that made Crawford's performance so hypnotizing.

* "The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber," Pasadena Civic Auditorium, 300 E. Green St., Pasadena. Today-Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 2 and 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Ends Sunday. $21-$56. (213) 365-3500. Running time: 2 hours, 5 minutes.

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