The Woman in White (musical)

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The Woman in White
Woman in white 2004.jpg
Original London Cast Recording
Music Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics David Zippel
Book Charlotte Jones
Basis Novel The Woman in White, by Wilkie Collins
Productions 2004 West End
2005 Broadway

The Woman in White is a musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber and David Zippel with a book by Charlotte Jones, based on the novel The Woman in White written by Wilkie Collins. It ran for nineteen months in the West End and three months on Broadway, making it one of Lloyd Webber's shortest-running shows.

Production history[edit]

West End[edit]

The musical adaptation of the book opened in London's West End, with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, lyrics by David Zippel, and book by Charlotte Jones, freely adapted from the novel. Directed by Trevor Nunn, it opened Wednesday, 15 September 2004 at the Palace Theatre. It gained attention for its set design, which employed the innovative use of projections rather than traditional scenery.

Through its first year, the London production earned some criticism. The projections were dizzying, out of focus, and the revolve (turntable) was not synchronized with the projections. (The revolve is used to move actors from one point of the stage to another while pictures behind them move, giving the effect of a camera swooping about.)

Also, at the end of 2004 (in the show's fourth month), the star Michael Crawford was taken ill, as a result of oversweating in the fat suit he wore to play the grossly obese character Count Fosco. From late December until early February 2005, Steve Varnom, the understudy, played the role. Renowned British singer/stage star Michael Ball then took over until late April. He received much praise for his portrayal because he had reinvented the role and his interpretation was used as the base for his replacements.

On 9 July 2005, the final Original London Cast (except with Fosco being played by Anthony Andrews) appeared on stage. It was also the final performance of the "first" version. The "second" version opened the following Monday night, with an almost completely new cast including Ruthie Henshall (Marian), Alexandra Silber (Laura), Damian Humbley (Hartwright), and Michael Cormick (Glyde. Many original ensemble members remained, along with Andrews and Edward Petherbridge, who played Mr. Fairlie. This version "previewed" through the rest of summer, inviting critics to return in early September 2005 with the arrival of Simon Callow as the fourth Count Fosco. The production was received with more enthusiasm though feelings were still mixed. The relations between the projections' movements and the revolve were said to be tighter, and the images were more in focus. The cast was also given good notices.

The show reportedly received some cutting, but still took roughly as long because of an extended ending which almost filled in the time saved earlier. Staging was also tightened.

On 20 January 2006, it was officially announced by producer Sonia Friedman and The Really Useful Theatre Company that the show would close in London on 25 February 2006 after a run of 19 months just reaching its 500th performance.


The Broadway production (which is chronicled below) was shortened far more than the Version 2.0. Verses were cut from "Perspective" and "The Seduction," along with "If Not for Me, For Her" (also cut in Version 2.0). The scenery was improved further. William Dudley's curved walls were no longer perfectly round, but oval shaped (it made the images feel more encompassing). The walls also had their doors fixed. The London production (through its end in 2006) had the doors aligned with the walls on only one side, so whenever they were spun around to the audience, there was roughly four inches of excess space between the wall and the door within. The Broadway production solved this problem by attaching the doors to tracks inside the 6-inch-thick (150 mm) walls so that they would move to the other side whenever the walls were spun.

The Broadway production opened on 17 November 2005 at the Marquis Theatre to mostly negative critical reaction. In his New York Times review Ben Brantley wrote: "It's not a terrible show, but it's an awfully pallid one."[1] This followed much publicity after the show's star, Maria Friedman, who had created the role of Marian Halcombe in the original London production, was diagnosed with breast cancer during previews; however, she underwent treatment and returned for the Broadway premiere. Lisa Brescia performed the lead role during Ms. Friedman's several absences on Broadway.

In a surprising announcement, the Broadway production closed even earlier than the London production on 19 February 2006, having played 109 regular performances and 20 previews. The producers cited Friedman's frequent absences (as well as the negative reviews) as difficult obstacles to overcome.[2]

A rumoured tour of a reconceived production planned to open in Milton Keynes in January 2007 failed to materialise. In January 2013 there was talk of a new production to be directed by original lead Maria Friedman, at the Menier Chocolate Factory in London, following her acclaimed professional directorial debut with Merrily We Roll Along at the same venue.

Musical numbers[edit]


On a midnight train trip on the way to Limmeridge House as a drawing teacher, Walter Hartright sees a strange woman dressed entirely in white, apparently escaping from someone and urgent to share a terrible secret with him. The signalman is scared because although he saw no-one, it was predicted a year earlier that in a 'year to this day', someone would be found dead on the railway track.

Walter meets his new students: Marian Halcombe and her pretty half-sister Laura Fairlie, who is heir to the estate which includes Limmeridge House. He tells them about his encounter, and they resolve to solve the mystery.

A love triangle develops as Walter and Laura quickly fall in love but Marian also falls for Walter and those feelings are not reciprocated. The peasants on the Limmeridge Estate sing and dance to celebrate the harvest. A girl is excluded from the festival because her mother believes her to be 'telling tales'. She tells Hartright of a ghost of a woman in all white. Hartright goes to the graveyard where the child saw the 'ghost' and meets Anne Catherick, who tells him her name and the name of the man who she is scared of: "Sir Percival Glyde". Marian tells Walter that Laura is engaged to a man of 'titled property': Sir Percival Glyde. Later Glyde arrives at Limmeridge, pretending to be a long-standing friend to Marian. He suggests that they move the wedding up from spring to Christmas and Laura eventually agrees.

Count Fosco, Glyde's friend and best man for the wedding, arrives and becomes attracted to Marian.

When questioned by Walter about Anne Catherick, Glyde tells him that she is mad. He mentions that he tried to help her, and she thinks that he is her enemy. Laura is reluctant to marry Glyde, but Marian encourages her to honor her father's dying wish. Walter receives all this news angrily and leaves for London but not before Laura returns a picture he drew of her back. Laura and Glyde are married. Anne Catherick decides to travel to Laura's side to help her, because she insists that Glyde 'knows no mercy'.

Marian moves into Blackwater House, Glyde's estate. Laura becomes angry and distrustful of Marian because her advice led her to marry a man whom she discovers to be a physically abusive husband; he only wants her for her money, to pay off his debt. Marian is determined to free Laura from this ill-fated marriage.

The next day, Glyde presents Laura with a document to sign, but he will not tell her its contents. Laura is immediately suspicious, and refuses to sign something she knows nothing about. Glyde is furious, but cannot force her to sign the document. The girls go for a walk to calm down, and meet Anne Catherick. They witness Anne being taken back to the Asylum. They are then completely convinced that Glyde and his friend Fosco are villains. Laura and Anne realize how similar they are to each other.

Marian eavesdrops on Sir Percival and Count Fosco, and overhears their evil plans to steal the Limmeridge Estate. She also overhears their plans for Anne Catherick, but Count Fosco figures out that he is being watched before he reveals anything important about the madwoman. He leaves the library to put Marian to bed. Marian, having gone to bed, starts to dream a montage of events that have occurred recently, mixed in with some noises. The noises, though not apparent to Marian, are actually Laura arguing and screaming.

Marian shortly is woken up by Count Fosco, who tells her that Laura was walking in her sleep and fell out the window. Marian is quite shaken by the tragic news. Fosco, avoiding drama, heads off to his house in London. However, being infatuated with Marian, he gives her his address in case she needs anything. At the village funeral Glyde suggests to Mr Fairlie that they get to the papers that need to be attended to. In a show of grief Glyde tries to shake Marian's hand but she ignores him, but vowing revenge for her sister she heads to find Walter.

In London, Walter has run out of money and gives his last coin to a beggar. Having heard the news through the grapevine of Laura's death, Walter expresses his grief at losing the love of his life. Coincidentally, Glyde, who is frustrated with paperwork, also shares Walter's feelings for Laura. Marian goes to London in search of Walter.

When Marian finds Walter, he joins her in her quest to learn the secret of Anne Catherick and avenge Laura's death. Marian believes that Anne's location is in a document that she witnessed Count Fosco sign the night she eavesdropped. Meanwhile, Glyde is happily betting the money that he has not yet received, which infuriates Fosco and leads to a split in their friendship. Marian and Walter are ready to leave for their visit to Count Fosco's. Marian is dressed specifically with the intent to use her feminine wiles against Fosco, which makes Walter suddenly realize his true feelings for her. Fosco, pleased with his part in the manipulation of everyone, gloats to himself and his pet mice.

Marian and Walter go to Fosco's home to retrieve the document, where he attempts to seduce Marian, not realizing that she is purposefully playing along. She sends him to the bathroom to shave as a diversion, whilst she searches for the document. She finds it, and discovers the location of Anne's asylum. When Fosco returns from the bathroom he discovers that Marian is visiting for another purpose. A rejected Fosco admits if Marian were really interested in him, he would have proposed marriage.

Marian and Walter go to the asylum to get the secret from Anne Catherick. However, when they arrive at Anne's cell, they find not Anne but Laura. Laura explains that Glyde put Laura in Anne's place at the asylum, killed Anne, then buried her in Laura's grave. In desperation the threesome head to Limmeridge House to try to learn the secret from Mr. Fairlie, who knows more about Anne Catherick than he says he does.

Meanwhile, Sir Percival Glyde has convinced Mr. Fairlie to give the Limmeridge Estate to him because he was married to Laura. Fairlie signs the document and Glyde goes off to catch a train.

Marian, Laura and Walter arrive at Limmeridge House after Glyde has left for the train. Mr. Fairlie reveals that Anne Catherick is in fact Laura's half-sister, and they look identical. Marian tells him of the conspiracy, but Fairlie sadly tells her that he already signed the document. The three run to the train to stop Glyde from getting away.

While still in Anne's white clothing, Laura pretends to be Anne and attempts to haunt Glyde if he does not tell the truth about the secret. "I had to drown your bastard child!" he exclaims. Laura reads between the lines and figures out the secret: Glyde had raped Anne, and drowned their child at Blackwater Lake. He tries to kill Laura to silence her but is run over by a train. The signalman's prediction comes true, but it is Glyde, not Walter, who lies dead on the tracks. Walter and Laura are happily married, Walter inherits Limmeridge House, and Marian is left heartbroken.


The principal original casts of the major productions of The Woman in White.

Character Sydmonton Workshop Original London Cast Original Broadway Cast
Marian Halcombe Laura Michelle Kelly Maria Friedman Maria Friedman
Count Fosco Roger Allam Michael Crawford Michael Ball
Anne Catherick Jaime Farr Angela Christian Angela Christian
Walter Hartright Kevin McKidd Martin Crewes Adam Brazier
Laura Fairlie Anne Hathaway Jill Paice Jill Paice
Sir Percival Glyde Kevin Colson Oliver Darley Ron Bohmer
Mr Fairlie Edward Petherbridge Walter Charles
Corn Dolly Girl Sophie Catherside
Leah Verity White
Sydney Rae White
Justis Bolding

Marian Halcombe was performed by standby Lisa Brescia on Broadway for the duration of Maria Friedman's absence.

Notable West End Replacements

Awards and nominations[edit]

Olivier Award
  • Best New Musical (Nominated)
  • Best Actress in a Musical - Maria Friedman (Nominated)
  • Best Performance in a Supporting Role in a Musical - Michael Crawford (Nominated)
  • Best Set Design - William Dudley (Nominated)
  • Best Sound Design (Win)
Whats On Stage Award
  • Best Actress in a Musical - Maria Friedman (Win)
  • Best Actor in a Musical - Martin Crewes (Nominated - Second place)
  • Best Supporting Actress in a Musical - Angela Christian (Win)
  • Best Supporting Actor in a Musical - Michael Crawford (Win)
  • Best New Musical (Nominated - Second place)
  • Best Director - London Calling - Trevor Nunn (Win)
  • Best Set Designer - William Dudley (Win)
  • Planet Hollywood Theatrical Event of the Year (Nominated)
Tony Award
  • Best Original Score (Nominated)
Outer Critics Circle Award
  • Outstanding New Broadway Musical (Nominated)
  • Outstanding Costume Design - William Dudley (Nominated)
  • Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical - Michael Ball (Nominated)
  • Outstanding Lighting Design - Paul Pyant (Nominated)
  • Outstanding Set Design - William Dudley (Nominated)
Theatre World Award
  • Maria Friedman—Winner

In Popular Culture[edit]

  • In a 2011 episode (Broadway Bro Down) of the American Television show South Park, "The Woman in White" was the name given by Andrew Lloyd Webber to Randy Marsh's musical (originally titled "Splooge Drenched Blowjob Queen") in which blowjobs were the sole "subtext" of the work-in-progress play.[3]


External links[edit]