The Sound of Smut - Stephen Ward

This week Andrew Lloyd Webber launched the first taste of Stephen Ward the musical - based on the life of the pimp central to the Profumo affair.

Just as in Jesus Christ Superstar, Webber sought to make a hero out of Judas Iscariot, so here he says he wants to exonerate Stephen Ward:

It's about the life of this man - and how a man who was probably the most popular, most sought after, most urbane - a figure who you really wanted to meet if you were in London - ended up as a waxwork in the chamber of horrors in Blackpool. He was the fall guy for what happened in a whole series of events that spun out of control... but the more you look at the story the more it's quite clear that a lot of things that were alleged to have happened probably didn't happen.

Such self-righteousness is underlined by his insistence that it's not "a musical about the Profumo Affair and Christine Keeler". Indeed, he's probably right. That is far too narrow a field for Webber. The musical appears to use that liaison as the bait to mark the watershed, when Britain abandoned the "shackles" of morality and discovered that promiscuity was fun. 

There are 4 preview songs in total. Two are soppy, sentimental numbers, as though heightened emotion and "love" is the only virtue. 

It is a total farce to give superficially "nice" music to these characters. I do not rate Webber's music as beautiful - it is too boring to earn that accolade. But the approximation is there. He twins tonal sounds with wickedness, giving his loveliest efforts to soften our view of his protagonists. At least when Berg made Lulu his protagonist, she was mired in atonality.

There is such a strong sense of the absurd in allowing characters of no moral worth to spout sentimental love and make pompous reflections on the state of culture. But is this really a brave new world?

Webber is trying to change our view of the past in order to validate the present. He wants to make us believe that we were set free from oppression through the pioneering perversion of the 1960s and we are all better people today because of it.

He goes too far. Not content with such dangerous revisionism, he puts in the mouth of Stephen Ward the idea that he was a victim of the establishment, a "human sacrifice".

This is a work of propaganda, setting Stephen Ward as the victim of abuse perpetrated by society. Ironic, for a pimp. 

Musical speaking it is doubly-ironic. Webber composers music without the fire and fun of the 60s, without the best of the fashions since then, and far more dull than the more old-fashioned style he parodies. He can pretend all he likes that morality is wrong and immorality is good, that the world is better now because people are free to do whatever they want without the gnawing consciousness of sin, but his style is in no-man's land. There is no music for such statements. Music is a proclamation of worth. If you try to use it to proclaim things that are not worthy then it sounds this bad. 

Sadly, so many people will cheer the debauchery that they will not care about the music. And those who like the sound of music will forgive the debauchery and right it off as a bit of a laugh.

It doesn't make the musical any better and it's hard imagine anything much worse.