Andrew Lloyd Webber Broadway Favourites Collection

I personally can't think of anything the world needs less than a four-disc box set celebrating musical theatre's premier mediocrity, but Universal apparently thinks otherwise. Hence this collection of three shows and a tribute concert for the ceramic-harlequin lover in your life. The best of the bad lot is Cats, that uneasy fusion of T.S. Eliot and the Jane Fonda workout; it of course features a battery of dancing fools crooning the author's poetry while striking some athletically feline poses. The music is a fairly thin soup and the choreography is sadly unimaginative, but I had begrudging respect for the ingeniousness of its design — there's something infernally pleasing about the goofy costumes and make-up that somehow makes it watchable, if not particularly memorable (and damn it, some of them kitties is sexy). Technically, Jesus Christ Superstar is a better piece of music, but the production on disc two is embarrassingly earnest, dumbing down the avant-garde modern-dress approach of 40 years ago so as to give "relevance" to the Gospel According to Andy. The clipped sang-froid of Tim Rice's lyrics are completely ignored in favour of some inappropriate Broadway histrionics, with a Jesus who resembles Michael Bolton and a cast that hits every note as if they were trying to suck their lungs out through their nostrils. Still, it's Marat/Sade when compared to disc three's Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, a crass Vegas-lite atrocity that smothers the show's modest charm in bloated design and lumbering insincerity. Donny Osmond brings his "golly gee whiz" presence to the role of Canaan's most famous son, Richard Attenborough looks vaguely anesthetised as his father Jacob and much unsubtle mugging ensures that you'll want to lob a brick through the screen. After that horror, disc four's Royal Albert Hall Celebration is merely tedious, with a parade of fatuous marshmallows (Antonio Bandaras, Sarah Brightman, Bonnie Tyler, Boyzone, etc.) interpreting the master's favourites. Still, it's a chore to sit through, with boring monochrome costumes making it as dull to watch as to listen to: the highlight/nadir has the brilliant Glenn Close wasting her vast talent on some schleppy tunes from Sunset Boulevard. I suppose it could be worse — there's no disc five featuring Starlight Express. Extras include "making of" featurettes for the three shows, production notes and personnel bios for Joseph and Superstar, and a "tribute" featurette for Albert Hall. (Universal)