MILLBURN, NJ — Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musicals generally have fans humming the tunes on the way out of the theater, and “Unmasked” is no different; Paper Mill Playhouse patrons will be hard-pressed to choose which tune to sing as they leave at the end of each performance.
The difference at this world premiere is the meshing of the live actors singing many of his hits and the videos in between of Lloyd Webber reminiscing about his life and giving insights into his creative process during his more than 50-year career. Not only does Lloyd Webber hold EGOT status — he’s won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony (seven Tonys, actually!) — he has also received seven Oliviers, a Golden Globe, and the Kennedy Center Honor as well.
“Unmasked” carries the same name as Lloyd Webber’s 2018 autobiography, and a large screen descends and ascends throughout the show for him to pop up on and talk about his life and work. This makes the performance more than a jukebox review. In the videos, he gives a glimpse into how the musical sausage is made: for instance, how a tune that didn’t work for one show was given a fresh chance with different lyrics for another show. He also has enough humility to point out that some of his shows, like “Love Never Dies,” had to gain a fan base slowly, and some never did at all, like the recent movie version of “Cats.”
The set is minimal, with sets of giant stairs to be swung around, climbed up and down, rounded about and “Cats”-crawled through. The scenic and costume design is by Alexander Dodge. The orchestra, with music supervision by David Andrew Wilson and music direction by Sam Davis, plays above the company on industrial looking scaffolding. Joann M. Hunter, who choreographed the last Paper Mill show, “Cinderella,” pulled double duty this time and directed as well as choreographed “Unmasked.” The show was cowritten and devised with Richard Curtis.
Sometimes it can be difficult to emote through a song sung out of context from its placement in a show, but you’d never notice it on “Unmasked” showstoppers like “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina,” “Gethsemane” “Like I Never Left at All,” “Memory,” and “Phantom of the Opera.” A couple original songs round out the trip down memory lane. Most in the cast have been in Lloyd Webber shows before, both on Broadway and on tour, but at this point you’d probably be hard-pressed to find a cast of any musical whose members didn’t have Lloyd Webber credits.
Unmasked runs through March 1. Tickets can be found at https://papermill.org.