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Andrew Lloyd Webber is the most prominent figure in musical theater of his generation. A household name throughout the world, he can boast a series of pop-chart successes and lengthy stage runs over a long career that must be the envy of most of his contemporaries. An awareness of his works is essential to the study of the musical, for he has become central to our understanding of the art form, both in its history from the late 1960s onward and in its identity as a genre.
By any measure of commercial success, Lloyd Webber is also a "Broadway master." Cats holds the records for the longest-running musical both on Broadway and in London's West End; seen throughout the world, in some three hundred cities and more than eleven languages, it has taken in a gross of more than $2 billion and has been watched in the theater by more than fifty million people, in addition to those who have enjoyed it through recorded versions. The Phantom of the Opera seems likely to equal that record; at the time of writing (2004) the Broadway and West End productions had achieved runs of sixteen and seventeen years, respectively. Starlight Express, when it closed in London in 2002, held the record for thesecond-longest-running musical in the West End, although about half of the show's estimated 16.5 million audience members saw productions elsewhere. When we add the international successes of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita, and Sunset Boulevard, the portfolio is an astonishing one.
What ismore, from the opening of Evita in 1979 to 2004 there has always been a Lloyd Webber show running on Broadway, for most of that time two concurrently, and for several periods three (table 1.1). In the West End, the opening of Jesus Christ Superstar in 1972 marked the start of a continuous presence of Lloyd Webber shows through to the time of writing; often during that span there have been four concurrent Lloyd Webber shows, and in both 1991 and 1997 six were playing simultaneously. The number of Lloyd Webber productions worldwide has been staggering: during 1982, for example, Evita could be seen in Australia, Spain, Mexico, Greece, New Zealand, Japan, and Germany, in addition to London, New York, or on one of three overlapping U.S. tours and one in Britain. In 1995 you could have seen The Phantom of the Opera in Basel or Osaka, Jesus Christ Superstar in Melbourne or Prague, Cats in Tokyo or Milan, Sunset Boulevard in Frankfurt or Toronto. Even China has been added to the Lloyd Webber atlas.
Such record-breaking runs show that Lloyd Webber's works have done more than catch the mood of a time or pick up on fads. Even his failures have survived longer in the public's consciousness than some composers' hits. But commercial success and popular appeal are not the only arbiters of importance: to be a "Broadway master" requires more than an impressive number of zeros after the dollar sign and long queues at the box office. The title implies that the creative artist has brought something more lasting to the genre, something that has influenced how the musical is conceived and perceived. How have Lloyd Webber's works changed the history of musical theater over the past decades? Why have the man and his works provoked such extremes of critical response? Has he been pioneering and innovative, challenging how we view the musical, or merely a mirror of what was already happening, his ability that of capitalizing on the ideas of others? However one answers those questions, Lloyd Webber's career demands serious attention, and such questions are explored through the following chapters. First, a summary of events in the life of Andrew Lloyd Webber will provide a chronological framework for the discussion of the shows to follow.
1948-79: Creating Superstars
Andrew Lloyd Webber was raised in London's South Kensington in a home of constant music. His father, William Southcombe Lloyd Webber, was a professional organist and composer who taught at the Royal College of Music; his mother, Jean Hermione Webber (née Johnstone), was a noted piano teacher who counted John Lill among her pupils; and his younger brother Julian was to become an internationally famous concert cellist. Andrew's earliest shows were written for his toy theater and presented with the assistance of Julian to an audience of his parents and guests; his first published compositions were a set of six miniatures numbered Op. 1, entitled The Toy Theatre, published in Music Teacher magazine in 1959. Trips to the West End in the company of his Aunt Violet nurtured his passion for musical theater. He had a short concentration span and an even shorter fuse, but more important, he was intelligent and talented. Having become a pupil at Westminster Underschool for boys in 1961, he went on to join Westminster School proper as a day boy. The next year he won the Challenge scholarship, which paid his fees but also required that he become a boarder at the school, even though it was only a short distance from his home.
Lloyd Webber took part in shows for his house at school, writing songs, directing, and playing. In 1963 he managed to gain a short-lived contract with the Noel Gay Organisation, a music publisher to which he had sent some material. Although this came to nothing of itself, an approach to Decca yielded an early demonstration recording, "Make Believe Love," which brought Lloyd Webber to the attention of Desmond Elliott, a literary agent and the publisher of Arlington Books. Timothy Miles Bindon Rice, an aspiring pop lyricist, had sought Elliott's advice on a suitable composer with whom to work. Rice wrote to Lloyd Webber and they agreed to give it a try. Andrew had won a scholarship to Magdalen College, Oxford, to study history, a subject about which he had shown a great passion from early on. But he lasted only a single term, starting in October 1965, before requesting a sabbatical in order to pursue his musical interests.
For a time, Rice moved into a room in the flat of Andrew and Julian's grandmother, next door to the Lloyd Webbers. Rice worked in the daytime as a management trainee at EMI Records while Lloyd Webber studied at the Royal College of Music. In 1966 Lloyd Webber and Rice began work on a musical, The Likes of Us, about the founding of the children's homes established in Britain by Dr. Barnardo in the nineteenth century. Their lyricist was another client of Elliott's and an ex-Barnardo child, Leslie Thomas, who later gained fame as a novelist. Sustained by a modest deal with Southern Music, they wrote the show, although it never reached the stage. Their second collaboration was more auspicious, written in response to a request from music teacher Alan Doggett for a short piece for his choir at Colet Court School in Hammersmith, London. Based on the Old Testament story of Joseph and his brothers, the "pop cantata" Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat was first performed on March 1, 1968, to an audience of parents. It featured only the essential outline of the longer piece that is now well known but was sufficiently promising that Bill Lloyd Webber arranged for a second performance at the Methodist Central Hall, Westminster, where he was organist. In a slightly expanded version, with the accompaniment augmented by the rock band the Mixed Bag, the performance on May 12 caught the attention of the pop critic Derek Jewell. His review in the Sunday Times a week later brought the piece wider commercial attention; Novello published the cantata, Decca recorded it, and another performance was arranged for St. Paul's Cathedral, London, at the invitation of the Dean.
Through Joseph's success, Lloyd Webber and Rice became a couple of bright young things in London; they even set up their own company, New Ventures Theatrical Management. Their next project was Come Back Richard, Your Country Needs You, a musical about King Richard the Lionheart set during the Crusades; although a short version was given a stage airing and some work was done on an album, only a title single was released. Come Back Richard continued the catchy pop of Joseph, albeit in more traditional vein, adopting the conventions of the "number" musical, with songs interpolated into a book. Some of its music was later recycled by Lloyd Webber, and the uncompleted show provided the basis of the idea for Rice's collaboration with Stephen Oliver, Blondel (1983).
New Ventures Management, with manager Sefton Myers and his associate David Land, was to shepherd the writing team through the main stages that launched their next work, Jesus Christ Superstar. The title song was first heard on a single, released in November 1969, and thanks to advance publicity that included a live performance on David Frost's television show in Britain, the record sold well enough in Britain to persuade Lloyd Webber and Rice to finish the work. The whole album, dramatizing the final days in the life of Christ, was recorded between March and July 1970, and released in October, first in England, then to considerably greater success in America. The cast included the unknown Yvonne Elliman as Mary Magdalene, Murray Head (who had been featured on the single release) as Judas, and Ian Gillan of the rock group Deep Purple as Jesus. The show's moneymaking potential was recognized by the impresario Robert Stigwood, and the next step involved a scale of management which someone like him could provide; as Rice puts it, "Robert never thought big-he thought massive."
Consequently, on October 12, 1971, Jesus Christ Superstar was staged at the Mark Hellinger Theatre, New York, in an excessively fashioned version produced by Stigwood and directed by Tom O'Horgan (known from Hair). Critics didn't know what to make of the extravagant and camp staging, but the album's popularity helped ensure a respectable run to June 1973. Following the New York success it was restaged in the Universal Amphitheater, Universal City, California, opening on June 28, 1972. The cast included Ted Neeley (Jesus), Carl Anderson (Judas), and Yvonne Elliman (Mary Magdalene), all of whom played the same roles in the film made that year by the Robert Stigwood Organization on location in Israel, and released in 1973. It was not until August 9, 1972, that London saw Jesus Christ Superstar, in a production by Jim Sharman which removed a lot of O'Horgan's Broadway excesses and was nearer Rice and Lloyd Webber's vision.
By the age of twenty-four, Lloyd Webber had achieved with Rice and Jesus Christ Superstar an internationally successful album, stage versions on Broadway and in the West End, and a film version in production. He was also now married to his first wife, Sarah Jane Tudor Hugill, having met her at a party in Oxford in 1970, when she was still studying for her final school exams. Throughout their marriage Sarah Jane was to be the dependable organizer of domestic life, a steady support to Andrew's fast-rising star, but never herself keen to be in the public eye. The theatrical follow-up to Jesus Christ Superstar actually came from the earlier Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat; interest in its staging had been aroused both by the popularity of Superstar and by its attendant religious theme. A version of Joseph presented at the Edinburgh Festival in September 1972 by the Young Vic company was later given in London at the Roundhouse, and then in the West End at the Albery Theatre, initially as part of a double bill with a "prequel" to the events of the show, Jacob's Journey. (The addition demonstrated by contrast just how good Joseph was.) Joseph ran for 243 performances in the West End and became a piece that almost every child in the United Kingdom came across through its many amateur presentations, which undoubtedly played a part in the successful revival and tours in the 1990s, an age at which adults could introduce their children to something remembered from their own school days. Its mutable pop styles have also played a large part in its continued appeal, as I shall explain in Chapter 3. In the early 1970s Lloyd Webber had his first contact with film composition, writing the scores for two thrillers: Gumshoe (1972), primarily set in Liverpool and presented in a style which parodied Raymond Chandler, and Frederick Forsyth's The Odessa File (1974). But this was to be a digression in the medium-one that, for reasons explained later, Lloyd Webber did not pursue.
Financially successful, Lloyd Webber was able in 1973 to purchase a large country manor in Hampshire, Sydmonton Court House; he was also able to cultivate his love of fine art with the beginnings of what was ultimately to become the finest private collection of pre-Raphaelite paintings in the world. His gourmet tastes could equally be indulged-he is a noted wine connoisseur and in the 1990s wrote a restaurant review column-and an interview in 1972 reported him as having sent his wife to Cordon Bleu school. Something of the essential difference between Rice and Lloyd Webber comes through in the detail of this bit of frivolous journalism: whereas Lloyd Webber's recipe for the readers was "Sauce Bernaise à la Andrew," Rice's was "Eggy Bread" (as "Pain perdu à la Tim"). In creative terms, Rice's contemporary edge and wry humor complemented the broad romanticism of Lloyd Webber's tendencies: the warmth of Rice's work could be brought out by Lloyd Webber, while the more pointed and direct of Lloyd Webber's work was sharpened by Rice. It was only after they ceased working together that Lloyd Webber's more expansive and indulgent musical style was allowed to develop and even dominate his music.
In his next stage work, Lloyd Webber abruptly changed direction. He had begun to work with Rice on a musicalization of P. G. Wodehouse's famous upper-class comic creations in his novels set in aristocratic Britain of the late 1920s and early 1930s; but the collaboration faltered. Instead of dropping the idea, Lloyd Webber wrote it with the playwright Alan Ayckbourn. The central characters were the young idiot socialite Bertie Wooster and his suave and ever-resourceful butler, Jeeves, while the show's plot was principally based on one of the best novels of the series, The Code of the Woosters. A calamitous tryout in Bristol was followed by a no-less-appalling West End run at Her Majesty's Theatre: thirty-eight performances, opening on April 22, 1975, and closing on May 24. This big and public failure was to have significant effects on how Lloyd Webber approached future shows, the most important of which was the founding of his annual Sydmonton Festival to try out new material before it was launched into full production. The failure of Jeeves also prompted his return to collaboration with Rice, whose imagination had been sparked after hearing a radio documentary about the life of Eva Perón, wife of President Juan Perón of Argentina. Work progressed quickly enough that by April of 1976 tapes of material for Evita were presented at the Sydmonton Festival; in November the concept album was released on the MCA label, along with the singles "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina" (sung by Julie Covington) and "Another Suitcase in Another Hall" (sung by Barbara Dickson).
Excerpted from ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER by John Snelson Copyright © 2004 by Yale University. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted March 14, 2013
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