Marti Webb

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Marti Webb
Born (1944-12-13) 13 December 1944 (age 69)
Origin Cricklewood, London, England
Genres musical theatre, easy listening, pop
Occupations Singer, actress
Years active 1963–present

Marti Webb (born 13 December 1944, Hampstead, North West London) is a musical actress from England, who appeared on stage in Evita, before starring in Andrew Lloyd Webber's one woman show Tell Me on a Sunday in 1980. This included her biggest hit single, "Take That Look Off Your Face", a UK top three hit, with the parent album also reaching the top three.[1]

Education and early career[edit]

Webb was raised in Cricklewood and after a school teacher suggested to her parents that her natural talent for singing and dancing should be nurtured, was educated at the Aida Foster stage school, where she eventually became Head Girl. She appeared as Moonbeam in the 1959 Manchester production of Listen to the Wind by Vivian Ellis whilst still a student, before leaving to make her West End debut in Stop the World, I Want to Get Off, a show that starred and had lyrics by Anthony Newley, whom Webb considered to be her mentor.[2]

Webb first came to prominence as Ann in the original London production of Half a Sixpence opposite Tommy Steele, citing her first leading role as a career highlight.[2] She later dubbed the singing voice of Julia Foster, her replacement for the film adaptation.

She also played Nancy in the first UK tour of Oliver! where she met and befriended the show's Assistant Stage Manager Cameron Mackintosh, who was to become one of the most prominent musical theatre producers in the world. Lionel Bart, the show's composer and lyricist, saw it numerous times whilst the production was in Manchester, where he was working on the notorious flop, Twang!. When it returned to the West End Phil Collins, who later achieved fame with Genesis and had been one of the original Dodgers, rejoined the production to play Noah Claypole.

During the 1970s she carved out a career as a respected, though not yet famous, West End actress and singer. In 1971, she was one of the original company of the London production of Godspell, opposite David Essex, Julie Covington and Jeremy Irons. She later played Nellie Cotterill in the 1973 original London production of The Card, a musical written by Tony Hatch and Jackie Trent which chronicled the rise of the title character from washerwoman's son to Mayor of a Northern British town through initiative, guile, and luck. The production was short-lived but was followed by the 1974 original London production of The Good Companions, alongside John Mills, Judi Dench and Christopher Gable in which she played Susie Dean, a member of a touring concert party.

Tell Me on a Sunday[edit]

In 1979, Webb was flown to New York to audition for Harold Prince after being suggested to the producers of Evita as a successor to Elaine Paige who was, at the time, expected to transfer to the recreate the role on Broadway. Prince was impressed and persuaded her to cover while Paige holidayed and sign up as a regular alternate for the remainder of Paige's contract, performing two shows a week, in preparation for succeeding Paige as the star. At her original audition, show's composer Andrew Lloyd Webber had asked whether she would be interested if he wrote anything he thought appropriate for her voice. Assuming it was a kindly rejection, she was later surprised to be invited for a meal at Mr. Chow with Lloyd Webber and the lyricist Don Black to discuss the concept of a song cycle inspired by the story of a friend of the composer who had moved from London to the United States to begin a new life.

Webb was asked to collaborate on the piece when only two songs, the title piece "Tell Me on a Sunday" and "It's Not the End of the World", had been written, so the rest was created specifically with her voice and character in mind. Black, who became her manager and a close friend, said of her performance, "She was 'the girl', and that was it." Her tendency to, "Talk for hours about the most boring everyday things, like the gas or insurance," also inspired him in creating the narrative pieces in the song cycle which were letters to the character's mum.[3]

She worked on the piece with Lloyd Webber and Black each day before being driven from Sydmonton Court, Lloyd Webber's country house, to the Prince Edward Theatre where Evita was playing. An album was recorded and it was performed at the 1979 Sydmonton Festival, the composer's annual workshop for new works, where a BBC Television producer contracted the collaborators to produce a version for television featuring Webb backed by a band and the London Philharmonic Orchestra. A one-off performance in January 1980 was recorded at the Royalty Theatre, London. Black recalls, "It was fantastic on television because it was almost all filmed in close-up on Marti Webb's face. Every eyebrow raised, every look registered. It was a brilliant piece of TV, like one of Alan Bennett's Talking Heads series, but sung."[3]

The album of Tell Me on a Sunday was released and the television programme aired in 1980 just as Webb took over the starring role in Evita.[4] It was a No. 2 hit in the UK Albums Chart, and saw Webb become a household name. The lead single, "Take That Look Off Your Face" was a similar success, reaching No. 3 in the UK Singles Chart.[1]

Webb has a distinctive, untrained voice and Lloyd Webber was said to have told her "You sing in my keys." She agreed, "You write in mine."[2] She has since regularly performed at his Sydmonton Festival. He produced her second solo album Won't Change Places (1981) which featured the lead single "Your Ears Should Be Burning Now".

In January 2014, Webb again performed Tell Me on a Sunday initially for a week at the St. James Theatre, London, then for a fortnight at the Duchess Theatre. Contrary to the 2004 revival, the show featured largely the original 1979 album tracks, with a few lyric amendments, plus the song "The Last Man in My Life", written for the show's incarnation as Song and Dance in 1982. The production came about after Webb met a commissioning editor for BBC Radio 2 at a concert honouring Don Black in late 2013 at which she'd performed two songs from the piece. Asked whether she could still do the whole show, she suggested that, with a small band, it could be recorded for radio broadcast. The producer Robert Mackintosh then suggested a week's run prior to the recording, the popularity of which led to another three weeks at a second theatre.

Work with Don Black[edit]

Lloyd Webber also asked Don Black, who had maintained a parallel career as the personal manager to Matt Monro, to become Webb's personal manager, a role he undertook from 1979 to 1990, when he became too busy with work on Sunset Boulevard. He found her a new manager and they've remained close: "Uncle Don and Auntie Shirl have always been there for me."[3]

During 1981 and 1982, Webb recorded her next album, I'm Not That Kind of Girl, which was eventually released in 1983. Although not based on a musical, the album had a running story concerning a woman who is reunited with a former lover. The album culminates with her on the way to their wedding. The songs were composed by David Hentschel and Don Black and were very much in a contemporary pop vein. Phil Collins played drums on the album and Kiki Dee contributed backing vocals. Despite the album's strong pedigree, it failed to chart and was Webb's final album on the Polydor label.

In 1985 she scored her next big hit when she recorded a cover version of Black's song, "Ben", which had been originally released by Michael Jackson. It was produced in memory of Ben Hardwick, who died shortly after becoming Britain's youngest liver transplant patient and whose story was publicised on the BBC television programme That's Life!. The single reached No. 5 in the UK Singles Chart and was included on her 1985 album, Encore.[1] The following year, Black wrote lyrics to the theme of the BBC television drama Howards' Way and the single "Always There" was the result, produced by its composers Simon May and Leslie Osbourne. It became a UK top 20 hit, and inspired an album of the same name in which she covered other television themes. The album, which peaked at No. 65 in the UK Albums Chart, was later released on compact disc entitled Marti Webb Sings Small Screen Themes.[1]

She appeared in a concert tribute to Don Black on his 70th birthday that was broadcast on BBC Radio 2 in August 2008 and also performed at a BBC Electric Proms event with the lyricist in October 2009.

Musical Theatre career[edit]

In 1982 Tell Me on a Sunday was combined with Lloyd Webber's other successful album Variations, which had featured his brother, cellist Julian Lloyd Webber, to create the show Song and Dance, Webb reprised her role as the unnamed girl in the first act.[2] In the second act Wayne Sleep and a dance troupe performed choreographed routines to Variations. The pair toured with the show extensively in the latter half of the decade.

In the mid 1980s, she again succeeded Elaine Paige, as Grizabella in the musical Cats both in the West End production at the New London Theatre and subsequently on a UK tour.

In 1995, at the age of 50, Webb reprised her leading role in a UK tour of Evita, opposite Chris Corcoran as Che and Duncan Smith as Peron. Despite some criticism over her age, the popularity of the tour, produced by Robert Stigwood and David Land with the orchestrations, stage design and direction of the original 1978 London production, led to it being extended throughout 1996. 1995 also saw the release of an album entitled Music and Songs from Evita as part of Pickwick Records' The Shows Collection series. Webb contributed a number of tracks, performing alongside Jess Conrad, Carl Wayne and Dave Willetts.

In 2003, Webb joined the UK touring production of The King and I, taking over from Stefanie Powers in the role of Anna Leonowens opposite Ronobir Lahiri as The King. Elaine Paige, Webb's predecessor in Evita and Cats had appeared in the London version of the production three years earlier. Later in 2003, she appeared in the original London stage production of Thoroughly Modern Millie uniquely alternating the role of Mrs Meers with Maureen Lipman, to allow Lipman to nurse her terminally ill husband.[5]

At the beginning of the following year, she again reprised her role in Tell Me on a Sunday, first for a limited run before the closure of the show in the West End and subsequently on tour. The show had been substantially rewritten for a production starring Denise Van Outen, but a combination of the new and original scores was created specifically for Webb. She appeared in many of the principal venues on the tour, but in other locations the show was performed by Faye Tozer and Patsy Palmer.[2]

In 2007, Webb played alongside Sheila Ferguson and Rula Lenska in Hot Flush, a new musical about the menopause.[6]

From September to December 2008, she appeared as Mrs Johnstone in the UK touring production of Blood Brothers, succeeding Linda Nolan who left due to illness.[7] The producer of the show, Bill Kenwright had been trying to persuade Webb to play the role for around 20 years and she was only free by chance. As Nolan was ill, she had just a week and a half to rehearse, around half the time normally expected for the rehearsal of such a tour. Birmingham-born Niki Evans was playing the role in the West End at the time, so while the tour visited Birmingham, Webb briefly took over in the London production to allow Evans to play her home city.

During her later career, Webb has spent many Christmas seasons in pantomime in venues throughout the UK, such as 2006 where she played the Fairy Godmother in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at Theatre Royal, Windsor.[8]

Webb starred as Aunt Eller in a 2011 UK Productions touring version of Oklahoma! alongside Mark Evans.

Throughout 2012 Webb appeared as Dorothy Brock, a past-her-prime Prima Donna in a UK tour of 42nd Street opposite fellow stage veteran Dave Willetts.

Recording career[edit]

Webb is often thought to have been a one-hit wonder as the success of "Take That Look Off Your Face" has been much more widespread than much of her other work, however, after Tell Me on a Sunday, she recorded a number of solo albums, including some live work, and most recently Limelight featuring a mix of her best known material and then latest productions.

In 1990, on the last studio collaboration between Alan Parsons and Eric Woolfson, the album Freudiana, Webb performed two songs: the solo "Don't Let the Moment Pass" and "No One Can Love You Better Than Me" in which she joined forces with Woolfson, Gary Howard and Kiki Dee.

Concert Work[edit]

Webb co-devised and starred in 'The Magic of the Musicals', a UK concert tour featuring songs from musical theatre in 1992 opposite Opportunity Knocks winner Mark Rattray. The gold selling album of the show was co-produced by Webb's former husband, sound engineer, Tom Button. It was also filmed and broadcast on BBC Television. This was followed in 1993 by a North American and Canadian tour and numerous UK versions in the following years, in which Rattray was succeeded by Dave Willetts, Robert Meadmore and most recently Wayne Sleep.[9]

A live recording of her season of cabaret performances with broadcaster David Jacobs at London's Café Royal was released in 1998 as Marti Webb Sings Gershwin: The Love Songs. Featuring material from her earlier Gershwin recording, the album was co-produced by Webb and West End sound designer Mick Potter.

Webb has recently performed her cabaret show on a number of P&O cruise ships, including the MV Arcadia during 2009 and 2010.

Personal life[edit]

Webb has married three times but has no children. She was married to actor Alexander Balfour in 1963 and then the actor Tim Flavin briefly in 1985. She and Flavin married in New York after a courtship of just two weeks but he had a number of affairs during their marriage which ended in divorce in 1986. She subsequently married sound engineer Tom Button, 20 years her junior, in 1991 but the couple separated some years later. She keeps an apartment in Westminster, London, but mainly lives in a cottage in Langport, Somerset, which she shared with her mother, Selina, before her death.[2] Webb was at one time a patron of The Players Music Hall Theatre in London, which specialises in Victorian variety theatre.

In early 2014, she revealed that she was treated for an aggressive form of bowel cancer in 2006, just a month after the death of her mother. The illness wasn't made public at the time and in fact Webb returned to the stage just two months after major surgery.

Stage appearances[edit]

Pantomime appearances[edit]

  • Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp (1962)
  • Robin Hood in Babes in the Wood (1987)
  • Dick in Dick Whittington (1994)
  • Fairy Godmother in Cinderella (1997)
  • Fairy Bowbells in Dick Whittington (1999)
  • Fairy Godmother in Cinderella (2000)
  • Fairy Godmother in Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (2006)

Television appearances[edit]

Discography[edit]

Solo albums[edit]

Cast recordings[edit]

  • Stop the World – I Want to Get Off (1961)
  • Half a Sixpence (1963)
  • Half a Sixpence Studio version (1967)
  • Godspell (1971)
  • The Card (1973)
  • The Good Companions (1974)
  • Song and Dance (1982)
  • Divorce Me, Darling (1997)

Singles[edit]

  • "Take That Look Off Your Face" (1980) (UK #3)
  • "Tell Me on a Sunday" (1980) (UK #67)
  • "Your Ears Should be Burning Now" (1980) (UK #61)
  • "I've Been in Love Too Long" (1981)
  • "Unexpected Song", a duet with Justin Hayward (1981)
  • "Last Man in My Life" (1982)
  • "Getting It Right" (1982)
  • "I'm Not that Kind of Girl" (1983)
  • "Didn't Mean to Fall in Love" (1983)
  • "For the Touch of Your Love" (1983)
  • "Ben" (1985) (UK #5)
  • "Ready for Roses Now" (1985)
  • "Always There" (Marti Webb & The Simon May Orchestra) (1986) (UK #13)
  • "I Could Be So Good for You" (1986)
  • "I Can't Let Go" (1987) (UK #65)
  • "In One of My Weaker Moments" (1989)
  • "Don't Let the Moment Pass" (1990)[1]

Compilation albums[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 594. ISBN 1-904994-10-5. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Shenton, Mark. "20 Questions With... Marti Webb", "What's on Stage", 9 February 2004
  3. ^ a b c Inverne, J:"Wrestling With Elephants, The Authorised Biography of Don Black", page 137. Sanctuary Publishing, 2003
  4. ^ Coveney, M: "Cats on a Chandelier, The Andrew Lloyd Webber Story", page 85. Random House, 1999
  5. ^ Gans, Andrew. "Diva Talk: West End Star Marti Webb Chats About Evita, Song & Dance and New Millie Role", "Playbill", 10 October 2003. Accessed 3 April 2008
  6. ^ Lewis & Aitken. "Theatre and Dance Reviews: Hot night out!", "BBC", 26 September 2007. Accessed 3 April 2008
  7. ^ Hardwick. "Rescuing Mrs J", "The Northern Echo", 26 September 2008. Accessed 1 October 2008
  8. ^ "Events, Gig and Theatre Guide: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs", "BBC", 28 November 2006. Accessed 3 April 2008
  9. ^ Fuller, Clive. "Theatre Reviews and Features: The Magic of the Musicals, In Concert", "BBC", 22 February 2006. Accessed 2 April 2008