It's appropriate that the Marriott Theatre's world premiere revue "Now & Forever: The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber" starts with a thumpingly played overture to "The Phantom of the Opera" as a sizable chandelier rises amid a bombardment of rapid-fire strobe lights. The chandelier sparkles so ferociously that it looks like it's being electrocuted.
This staged overture is symbolically representative to the populist, over-the-top aesthetics of Andrew Lloyd Webber's work. The phenomenally successful British composer behind global hits like "Cats," "Evita" and "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" currently has the longest-running show in Broadway history (25 years this month with "The Phantom of the Opera"), laying appropriate claim to the title's "Now & Forever" pronouncement. He is also so associated with flashy theatrical spectacle that an off-Broadway spoof like "The Musical of Musicals: The Musical!" jokes how often audiences applaud the set changes in his shows.
"Now & Forever: The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber"★ ★ ★
Location: Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire, (847) 634-0200 or marriotttheatre.com
Showtimes: 1 and 8 p.m. Wednesday, 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 4:30 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 1 and 5 p.m. Sunday, through March 24
Running time: About two hours and 15 minutes with intermission
Tickets: $40-$48; senior and student discounts available
Parking: Free adjacent lots and pay valet service
Rating: For general audiences
But at an in-the-round venue like the Marriott Theatre, scenery largely takes a back seat to the heart of Lloyd Webber's music mastery in this new revue co-created by lead artistic director Aaron Thielen and director/co-choreographer Marc Robin.
"Now & Forever" definitely doesn't stint on production values or talent. The large, powerhouse ensemble alternately shines with soloists showing off pyrotechnic vocals and dexterous dancers executing challenging choreography by Robin, Harrison McEldowney and Matt Raftery.
Fans of Lloyd Webber will get an inspired overview to the diversity of his output, from the heavy rock of "Jesus Christ Superstar" (singer Max Quinlan literally gobsmacked several audience members to say "Wow!" mid-song during "Gethsemane"), to syrupy Puccini-esque melody (Erin Stewart's surging soprano renditions of "Think of Me" from "The Phantom of the Opera" and the title tune from "Love Never Dies" are great, especially when the latter is smartly staged as a meditation on lost love).
The show's choreographers also offer a variety of styles for the dancers including ballet, modern and tap amid a plethora of difficult lifts, leaps and tricky partnering. Yet there's little sense of why the people are dancing other than it being dance for dance's sake; it's often beautiful, even if it doesn't appear as effortless as it should.
Some of the music is also so intrinsically tied to specific shows that it sometimes don't make much sense divorced from the original context. One example: A handsome, unmasked fellow like Quinlan would hardly inspire the lyrics "Those who have seen your face, draw back in fear."
And if you listen closely to the lyrics of "Memory" from "Cats" with Linda Balgord sans kitty costume, what are we to make of her character's profession as she stirringly sings about pounding the pavement after dark and pleading for someone to "Touch Me!" at the song's climax?
"Now & Forever" clearly jogs audiences' memories of Lloyd Webber's amazing way of crafting anthemic numbers around the joys and despair of love, be it through general statements (like "Love Changes Everything" from "Aspects of Love," sung with soaring power by Quinlan, Ben Jacoby and Travis Taylor), or more fully developed story numbers like the refreshing "Take That Look Off Your Face" sung by Stephanie Binetti, "Unexpected Song" sung by Catherine Lord and "Tell Me on a Sunday" sung by Susan Moniz.
There may not be much plot to tie the show together as a whole, but the individual numbers and all the performers in "Now & Forever" wow. Still, with such talent assembled at the Marriott, I often felt their efforts would have been better combined on a singular Lloyd Webber show rather than a sampling of highlights.