This biography of Napoleon charts his rise to power through military cunning, willpower and the sacrifice of the ones he loves, eventually leading to his demise caused by the Russian winter and his defeat at Waterloo.
The love story between Napoleon and Josephine is not covered deeply enough and so fails to build a meaningful relationship between these two main characters, this results in unconvincing love scenes. The writers seem unsure as to whether they want to base the story around Napoleon's drive for power or his love for Josephine. What we end up with is a sketchy account of his rise to power and an even more sketchy account of his relationship with Josephine. There is nothing new in this musical to make it stand out from the rest, and it certainly has nothing to sustain a long run with patrons coming back to see it again and again.
I saw the matinee, and as is common nowadays, the understudy Mark Stobbart played 'Napoleon'. He only graduated from Mountview Theatre School in 1999, but he looks as if he may have a successful career ahead of him, if this performance is anything to go by. He produces a convincing and strong performance. Anastasia Barzee performed adequately, but then her acting skills were not put to the test with this Josephine. The strongest character is 'Talleyrand', a senior government minister who is portrayed as the main power behind Napoleon's throne. The scheming 'Talleyrand', is played wonderfully by David Burt who produces the best performance of the show.
Although, this is an 'average' musical, it is still worth seeing as the show does have a nice score (Timothy Williams) that works well, though it is not memorable. Historically the story is interesting, though it doesn't reveal much about the characters. The lyrics by Andrew Sabiston are mediocre, but satisfactory. There's not much to say about Michael Yeargan's set design, other than it is minimal.
A round up of reviews from the popular press by Darren Dalglish.
As expected, the show has not received good reviews from the popular press. SHERIDAN MORLEY for TELETEXT wrote a positive review, saying, "Well, what a surprise. Just as West End musicals were going minimalist and dark along comes the most lavish, over-the- top extravaganza since Ivor Novello dropped dead in King's Rhapsody in 1951. True, Napoleon is not all that good. But director Francesca Zambello.... has thrown everything at it. Tosca and Traviata combined have nothing on what is happening here." BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE for THE TIMES was not impressed, saying the show had "music that often went tum-tum, lyrics that regularly went plonk-plonk, and rhymes that sometimes left me wishing no such thing as rhyme had been invented". He ends his review, "As it is, there's only one answer to the question of whether this new musical is stronger and more enjoyable than the year's other Gallic offerings. Not tonight, Josephine." PAUL TAYLOR for THE INDEPENDENT says, "...Napoleon is severely deluded and in urgent need of counselling. Last night's opening presented us with two and three-quarter hours of hammy historical hokum, diversified by a couple of moments that served to indicate what might have been if anyone around had had any taste." He goes on to describe the score as "Talentless" and the lyrics "Dire". He was however impressed by the set design, describing it as "slick and fluent ", but says, "...man cannot live by sets alone." CHARLES SPENCER FOR THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "The show is a shameless attempt to cash in on the vast box-office success of Les Miserables. Unfortunately it seems like a dismally pale imitation, with almost none of the drama or thrilling theatrical spectacle." He goes on to say, "Williams's score is a non-stop parade of churning, ersatz-emotional anthems that go straight in one ear and out the other without troubling the brain, heart or memory, while the triteness of Sabiston's lyrics often beggars belief." NICHOLAS DE JONGH for THE EVENING STANDARD says, The songs are unmemorable and unhummable."
Review by Jonathan Richards