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Sex, spies and society scandal in Andrew Lloyd Webber musical

Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber speaks during the German game show "Wetten Dass" (Bet it...?) in Salzburg, March 27, 2010. REUTERS/Kerstin Joen
Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber speaks during the German game show "Wetten Dass" (Bet it...?) in Salzburg, March 27, 2010. REUTERS/Kerstin Joen

By Paul Casciato

LONDON (Reuters) - A new musical from British impresario and composer Andrew Lloyd Webber will delve into the sex, spies and politics at the heart of Britain's biggest post-war scandal when it opens in December.

"Stephen Ward" charts the rise and fall of a high society osteopath at the centre of the 1963 "Profumo Affair" which embarrassed the British establishment by exposing the decadent lifestyle of the London elite as the sexual revolution began.

"It's a little bit about the last gasp of the old Britain, whilst the new one was about to come and how the whole business led to the downfall of a government," Lloyd Webber told Reuters at the musical's launch on Monday.

A sample of the songs in the new production - sung live to the media by the cast in a Soho nightclub - provided a bawdy look into the lifestyle of a man who mixed party girls and powerful people at seedy London clubs and country houses.

"You've never had it so good," went one of the songs, twisting a famous quote by the prime minister of the day, Harold Macmillan, by adding: "You've never had it so often."

"Here you can have it off with some English toff," the song continued.

The 65-year-old composer of stage blockbusters "Cats" and "Phantom of the Opera" said he told a theatre magazine that he was intrigued by the trial of Ward, who was convicted of living off the immoral earnings of two women, Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies, as the Profumo scandal broke.

"The next day Mandy called me," Lloyd Webber said.

Rice-Davies contended that Ward was offered up as a scapegoat by the police, the establishment and the media to appease public morality. The osteopath took an overdose of sleeping pills during the trial and died three days after his conviction.

MYTH AND THE MAN

"I wanted a story told that would fill the gap between the myth and the man," Rice-Davies, 68, told reporters when asked why she had collaborated with Lloyd Webber on the new show.

Ward introduced Keeler, a showgirl, to John Profumo, secretary of state for war. Revelations that Keeler was having a relationship with Profumo and a Russian naval attaché at the same time led to the politician's resignation.

Directed by Richard Eyre, the music for "Stephen Ward" was composed by Lloyd Webber, who was reunited with lyricist Don Black and playwright Christopher Hampton - the team behind "Sunset Boulevard".

Alexander Hanson plays the osteopath who treated Gandhi and Winston Churchill, painted portraits of royal family members and then partied the night away with showgirls and aristocrats.

He said the story focuses mostly on setting the record straight for Ward.

"He was basically fitted up," Hanson told Reuters.

Lloyd Webber - an Oscar, Tony and Grammy award winner who owns six London theatres - rebuffed suggestions that his latest offering was a departure from previous work such as "Starlight Express" and "Jesus Christ Superstar".

"I don't know that there is an archetypal Andrew Lloyd Webber ... I wrote a story about Jesus Christ and I did a musical about cats," he told Reuters. "I don't necessarily stick to the same theme."

Some 50 years after the scandal, Rice-Davies said she was no longer bothered by her notoriety and played down the saucy innuendo which still surrounds the scandal today.

"The good girls didn't have any sex at all and the bad girls had a bit."

(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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