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Article updated: 1/21/2013 4:01 PM

Marriott debuts dance-filled Andrew Lloyd Webber revue

By Scott C. Morgan

Editor's note:
Dancer Lauren Blane was misidentified in a photo caption accompanying the story.

"Now and Forever" used to be the advertising slogan for Andrew Lloyd Webber's hit 1980s musical "Cats," which for a time was the longest-running show in Broadway history. But "Cats" in New York fell short of forever when it closed in 2000 and later saw its record-breaking run surpassed by another Andrew Lloyd Webber show, "The Phantom of the Opera."

Now the old "Cats" slogan has another life. It's attached to the world premiere revue "Now & Forever: The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber," now in previews at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire.

By giving the name to a new Andrew Lloyd Webber revue, the Marriott Theatre is making a statement about the celebrated British composer behind such globally successful shows as "Jesus Christ Superstar," "Evita" and "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat."

"His shows have reached audiences that many other composers have failed to reach," said Matt Raftery, a co-choreographer on "Now & Forever."

Raftery cites songs like "Memory" from "Cats" and "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" from "Evita" in illustrating Lloyd Webber's global success.

"So much of his music crossed even into mainstream popular music -- there are so many songs that people are familiar with -- and I think he has written a cannon of music that is going to stay around for a long time," Raftery said.

Yet the creative folks at the Marriott Theatre devised "Now & Forever" because a certain cannon of Lloyd Webber's music wasn't made available to them. For many years, the Marriott sought and failed to obtain the rights to stage its own production of the touring concert revue "The Music of the Night: The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber."

"We just stopped asking because the answer was 'No' all the time," said Marriott Theatre lead artistic director Aaron Thielen. "And then that was the year when they went, 'Hey, what would you think about putting together your own Andrew Lloyd Webber revue?'"

Thielen jumped at the chance, immediately bringing aboard 16-time Jeff Award-winning director/choreographer Marc Robin to co-create and stage the new revue. After they were given access to more than 40 Lloyd Webber tunes, Thielen and Robin had to come up with the concept for the show.

"The most complicated part of putting this together is making a flow that makes sense," Thielen said, adding that a stand-and-sing affair with a big orchestra like "The Music of the Night" was out.

Early on they also tossed the idea of sequentially staging mini versions of Lloyd Webber's shows and aping the looks of those diverse musicals in terms of costuming. So fans shouldn't expect to see dancers in cat outfits or anyone strapping on roller skates for "Starlight Express."

Instead, Robin and Thielen turned to the rapturously received 2006 Marriott revue "All Night Strut" to make "Now & Forever" into a dance-heavy show.

"I think people will be surprised at how much dance music he's actually written," Thielen said about Lloyd Webber. "He's obviously known for 'Cats,' but there's a lot of other stuff he's done that is also danceable."

As a veteran of directing or choreographing more than 20 Marriott shows, Robin obviously didn't need help from other choreographers for "Now & Forever." But he brought aboard choreographers Raftery and Harrison McEldowney because they're strong in other styles of dance.

"When you do a revue, what's always nice is to be able to give your audiences a variety of styles -- not just musically, but also in dance," Robin said. "I'm your sort of classic musical comedy guy -- you know, the tap, the jazz."

But what Robin says McEldowney brings to the table is his experience in concert dance pieces he's done for modern dance companies like Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and River North Dance Chicago. As for Marriott veteran Raftery, Robin praised his skills at staging contemporary and hip-hop dance.

Finding the right dancers who could handle all the different demands and choreographic styles was important for the revue.

"They have gone out of their way to look for dancers who have not typically worked at the Marriott and broadened their reach to some ballet and concert dancers from the community," said McEldowney. Thus, he used his influence in the casting process to get River North Dance Chicago veterans like Monique Haley and Luke Manley, and former Royal Danish Ballet corps member Ellen Green, who are all featured in the show's eight-member dancing ensemble.

And though the dance component has been ramped up for "Now & Forever," Robin also stresses how the revue will feature 10 fantastic singers, too.

"Erin (Stewart) sang Christine in 'The Phantom of the Opera' on Broadway and Linda Balgord is an Andrew Lloyd Webber aficionado," said Robin, mentioning Balgord's touring credits with "Sunset Boulevard" and "Aspects of Love."

Robin is also happy to reunite Max Quinlan and Susan Moniz, who starred as Joseph and the Narrator in the Marriott Theatre's 2009 production of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat."

"We're surrounded by a plethora of talent," he said.

Another distinction for "Now & Forever" is that it will have songs from lesser-known Lloyd Webber compositions like "Song and Dance," "Requiem" and "Whistle Down the Wind." Notably, there are songs from "Love Never Dies," a "Phantom" sequel which has not yet had a professional staging in North America.

"A lot of the music is still incredible," Thielen said. "We're super excited to be able to bring some of that music into the show that people don't know, but need to know."

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