Sex, spies and songs: Lloyd Webber musical tackles Profumo affair

Fri Dec 20, 2013 7:19am EST
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By Michael Roddy

LONDON (Reuters) - Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Stephen Ward" is a musical with a mission: to clear the name of the eponymous high-society osteopath at the center of the 1963 Profumo sex and spies scandal that fatally rocked Britain's government.

The show, which opened in London on Thursday, received mixed reviews, with The Guardian saying that "Lloyd Webber's romanticism sits oddly with a social and political critique" and The Daily Telegraph praising it for "delightful tunes, winning performances - and an unexpected dash of mischief".

The main characters, in real life and the show, are party girl Christine Keeler and her friend Mandy Rice-Davies, a vodka-swilling Russian military attache who was one of Keeler's lovers, and John Profumo, Britain's Secretary of State for War, a married man and also one of Keeler's lovers.

When his affair with her came tumbling out, courtesy of the ever vigilant British tabloid press, it was suspected that Profumo in "pillow talk" may have leaked nuclear secrets to Keeler and through her to the Russians.

Profumo lied about it all to Parliament and was forced to resign, leading indirectly to Conservative Prime Minister Harold Macmillan stepping down some months later and an election a year on that brought the Labour opposition to power.

The affable, Jaguar-driving Ward's role in all this? He was said to be the procurer and committed suicide with an overdose of sleeping pills after being forced to take the rap by the corrupt British political, judicial and police establishment of the time - or so the musical's book would have it.

From the opening number, "Human Sacrifice", in which Ward, played by veteran musical and stage performer Alexander Hanson, is shown in a wax museum display alongside historical villains such as Hitler, this latest offering makes it clear that the evening's entertainment comes with a moral lesson attached.

"Get up the nose of the establishment ... step across the line," Ward sings as he comes alive amid the display of wax dummies, and you, too, could become a "human sacrifice".   Continued...

English composer Andrew Lloyd Webber attends a news conference ahead of the Eurovision Song Contest final in Moscow May 15, 2009. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin