Not everyone in New York would pay to see Andrew Lloyd Webber...
—Crowded House, "Chocolate Cake"
Baron Andrew Lloyd Webber, these days, you've probably heard one of his songs at some point or seen one of his musicals, especially if you were a child of The Eighties. His most famous shows in order of production are:
- Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
- Jesus Christ Superstar
- The Phantom of the Opera
This wildly successful composer/producer's works altered the course of musical theater on Broadway, the West End, and the world for at least two decades. He popularized the subgenre of pop-opera musicals, usually European in origin, with an emphasis on high drama, spectacle, and sometimes offbeat concepts (Cats is a glorified revue about cats, based on a book of poetry by T. S. Eliot; Starlight Express is about a train race with actors on roller skates playing the anthropomorphic engines and cars. Yes, the man has a show whose plot is train meets train, train loses train, train gets train back. This is a man who should not be dismissed lightly). His biggest hit -- in every sense of the term -- was 1986's The Phantom of the Opera, which has become the longest running Broadway show ever (it opened there in 1988 and inherited the crown from Cats). Into the early 1990s, his were among the very few stage musicals to have songs released as singles -- and even music videos -- in the U.K.
However, his success has made him ever ripe for mockery and parody. Critics feel he has a bad habit of shows where the audience leaves "whistling the sets and lights." In other words, as observed by critics and former performers in Webber shows, the star of The Phantom of the Opera is actually the chandelier; for Cats, the costumes; for Joseph, the flying sequence; or the roller skates in Starlight Express. (They don't know what to make of Aspects of Love, which is basically a Soap Opera, but then no one's ever known what to make of it.) He's also prone to reprising tunes constantly within each show with different lyrics and context, and the Ear Worm effects of his biggest tunes ("Don't Cry for Me Argentina" [Evita], "Memory" [Cats], and several Phantom numbers) have driven many listeners batty. The fall of the pop opera, at least in the U.S., owed a lot to critical and audience fatigue with the omnipresence of these shows as well as similar efforts like Les Misérables and Miss Saigon, though his legacy of sheer theatrical spectacle lives on in shows like Wicked and the various Disney stage musicals. Additionally, Pink Floyd's Roger Waters has accused him of appropriating one of Phantom's most famous riffs from "Echoes", a song on PF's 1971 album Meddle.
As it was, Phantom proved to be a hard show to top, and while he's written several shows since then (most notably Sunset Boulevard), few have attracted much attention outside the U.K. He's kept busy in other ways, however. The most recent thing of note that Lord Webber did involved his current production of The Sound of Music, a British Soap Opera, Bonnie Langford's niece and a highly successful publicity pull. It went something like this:
Webber chose to cast Summer Strallen, the aforementioned niece of Bonnie Langford (who was in Doctor Who as Mel, BTW and does Panto a bit) as the second person to play Maria, having cast his first, Connie Fisher, via a TV Talent Show. Bar one appearance in Hotel Babylon, her IMDB profile was rather short. She'd done stuff on the London Stage, but wasn't too well known. So, Lord Webber called up the producers of Hollyoaks (the British Soap Opera in question) and got her a part as Summer Shaw, an aspiring actress. Not telling the press that she would be Maria, the writers of said show had Summer Shaw, in character, head to London, find Lord Webber (played by himself) and convince him to cast her as Maria. Shaw then proceeded to leave the show and the whole thing was revealed. Cue national headlines.
He also did a Talent Show to cast a Joseph (Any Dream Will Do) and did another one (I'd Do Anything) for his mate, who is doing a production of Oliver!. His latest, Your Country Needs You! was an attempt to find a good Eurovision Song Contest singer for the 2009 contest. He wrote the song and played the piano -- the song actually came fifth. Considering the previous and following years saw the UK entry come last, this was a major improvement.
Considers the internet to be a problem in promoting his shows, as he finds it to be full of people who will complain about the show without even having seen it... Especially his newest[when?] Love Never Dies, the sequel to Phantom of the Opera. Love Never Dies got so much flak from the Phantom fanbase (it got dubbed "Paint Never Dries" and a group opposing the sequel called "Love Should Die" was formed), Lloyd Webber bit the hands that fed him by lashing out at the Phantom fanbase, instead of admitting Love Never Dies was no good, at least not as good as Phantom. Continuing the above-mentioned trend of reusing melodies he had composed earlier, the melody of LND's title song had actually been used twice before, first as "Our Kind of Love" in The Beautiful Game, and then later as "The Heart is Slow to Learn" (which was in all fairness intended for the Phantom sequel at first).
In addition to his pop/musical work, Lloyd Webber has written one piece of classical music, a requiem mass composed to honor his father, who died in 1982. Andrew Lloyd Webber's Requiem premiered in February of 1985 and was eventually released as an album; it was during the production of the recording that Lloyd Webber first met future wife Sarah Brightman, who had been cast for a solo soprano part in it. The "Pie Jesu" segment of the mass became a major hit, and the Requiem as a whole won the 1986 Grammy Award for Best Classical Contemporary Composition.
Shares a birthday with Stephen Sondheim, of all people.
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