LONDON - Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Stephen Ward” which opened on Thursday in London is a musical with a mission: to clear the name of the high-society osteopath of the title, who was at the centre of the Profumo love affair , spies and call girls scandal that brought down a British government in the 1960s.
The main characters, in real life and the show, are party girl Christine Keeler and her friend Mandy Rice-Davies as the women who cause all the trouble, a vodka-swilling Russian military attaché who was one of Keeler’s lovers, and John Profumo , Britain’s Secretary of State for War, a married man and also one of Keeler’s lovers. When his affair with her came tumbling out, courtesy of the ever vigilant British tabloid press, it was suspected that Profumo in “pillow talk” may have leaked nuclear secrets to Keeler, through her to the Russians and from that stemmed the scandal that brought down the Conservative government.
The affable, Jaguar-driving Ward’s role in all this? He was said to be the procurer and committed suicide with an overdose of sleeping pills after being forced to take the rap by the corrupt British political, judicial and police establishment of the time - or so the musical’s book would have it. From the opening number, “Human Sacrifice”, in which Ward, played by veteran musical and stage performer Alexander Hanson, is shown in a wax museum display alongside historical villains like Hitler, this latest offering from the creator “Evita”, “Cats” and “The Phantom of the Opera” makes it clear that the evening’s entertainment comes with a moral lesson attached. “Get up the nose of the establishment ... step across the line,” Ward sings as he comes alive amid the display of wax dummies, and you, too, could become a “human sacrifice”.