ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER in Conversation With GLENN CLOSE, Monday, March 5th, 2018, Reviewed
There is a reason why Andrew Lloyd Webber, a hugely successful composer for musical theatre, is so disliked: he is a lower middle class striver and Conservative stalwart, the Margaret Thatcher of middlebrow entertainment. That much is true, though being interviewed by Glenn Close at the Town Hall last night, he was something else as well, something I never suspected he had in him: a self-deprecating wit.
In time for his 70th birthday, on March 22nd, Sir Andrew is having a live performance of “Jesus Christ Superstar” on Network TV, along with the publication of his memoir “Unmasked” (asked which character in his musical he most resemble he couldn’t decide though as the title of memoir insures, it is the Phantom), and so he showed his face for a paying audience and answered questions from Glenn and from the audience. Obviously nothing very deep was going to go on in theory, no gossip, no controversy, heaven knows no politics (though when he discussed “Evita” there was a whiff of Trump in the air), nothing any semi-inclined to know would not have known about him, but what was of immense interest was his discussion of his craft and it was then that the hour plus interview became much more than we expected.
Andrew Lloyd Webber, Baron Lloyd-Webber, took us on a hop skip and a jump through his backstory. Andrew discusses his father William Lloyd Webber, a composer and organist, telling Andrew “If you ever write a melody half as good as as Richard Rodger’s “Some Enchanted Evening” I’ll tell you,” and never telling him. Also telling his son that “Memories” sounded like ten million pounds. Andrew had written the melody for “Memories” for a musical about Puccini and “Cats” was missing an emotional center. What worried Andrew was not the money but the plagiarism, a question that has plagued Andrew all his career.
Andrew jumped from “Jesus Christ Superstar,” double backed onto “By Jeeves” (a good musical with a bad book), before taking on his second breakthrough, “Evita”. Andrew considers “Evita” the most difficult show he ever composed because there was no character he actually liked. Finally, he used his memory of a late career Judy Garland, drunk, and being booed off stage at the Talk Of The Town, to write “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina,” and find the heart of the story, “I’ve only seen something like that once since,” he remarked, “Amy Winehouse in Birmingham”).
He isn’t very interesting on “The Phantom Of The Opera,” but more so on “Love Never Dies,” which died in London due to a bad production, and an Australian touring company of it is currently in the US and Andrew is pleased with that one, Lloyd-Webber is looking for a producer to bring it to Broadway. Since “Phantom” is currently in its 30th season, I can’t see what the problem is. The one song performed last night was “Love Never Dies”. Just as interesting, Lloyd-Webber’s current “School Of Rock,” featuring children playing rock instruments, changed out of town to mean Off-Broadway where they performed in in front of an audience “in concert” at the Gramercy and revised accordingly. He noted how the technology is so complicated now, it is difficult to revise a show from day to day. His other, if not complaint, explanation was how the days of 50 piece orchestras are now over and therefore he is forced to simplify his compositions for a smaller ensemble. With nothing immediately on the horizon, Andrew is searching for a subject matter for his next musical, concluding that his mistakes tend to occur when he chose a subject for the sake of writing. He didn’t say so, but… “Starling Express”.
I have flicked through “Unmasked” and like most things by Lloyd Webber, it is all a little blancmange. he is skilled at middle of the road musicality, a performer for those who enjoy “50 Greatest classical Songs” from Time/Life. While he has written some wonderful melodies, there is something cold about his skillfulness. He is a second hand talent, fitting his gifts somewhere between the Queens corgi and Elton John’s toupees. 50 years is not 500 years and his populist pedigree seems hell-bent on transience. Lloyd Webber is one of the great whatevers, an encyclopedia of pop moves prancing like Gilbert And Sullivan on an off night meets his heroes like Richard Rodgers. Still, he knows his stuff.