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

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 (some 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]


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, 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. "A man such as yourself", the signalman says.

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 Sir Percival Glyde arrives at Limmeridge, pretending to be a long-standing friend to Marian. Glyde suggests that they move the wedding up from spring to Christmas and Laura eventually agrees.

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]