Andrew Lloyd Webber Biography

22 March 1948, London, England. The ‘Sir Arthur Sullivan’ of the rock age was born the son of a Royal College of Music professor and a piano teacher. His inbred musical strength manifested itself in a command of piano, violin and French horn by the time he had spent a year at Magdalen College, Oxford, where he penned The Likes Of Us with lyricist (and law student) Tim Rice. As well as his liking for modern composers such as Hindemith, Ligeti and Penderecki, this first musical also revealed a captivation with pop music that surfaced even more when he and Rice collaborated in 1967 on Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, a liberal adaptation of the scriptures. Mixing elements of psychedelia, country and French chanson, it was first performed at a London school in 1968 before reaching a more adult audience, via fringe events, the West End theatre (starring Paul Jones, Jess Conrad and Maynard Williams), an album, and, in 1972, national television.

In the early 70s, Lloyd Webber strayed from the stage, writing the music scores for two British films, Gumshoe and The Odessa File. His next major project with Rice was the audacious Jesus Christ Superstar which provoked much protest from religious groups. Among the studio cast were guest vocalists Michael D’Abo, Yvonne Elliman, Ian Gillan and Paul Raven (later Gary Glitter), accompanied by a symphony orchestra under the baton of André Previn - as well as members of Quatermass and the Grease Band. Issued well before its New York opening in 1971, the tunes were already familiar to an audience that took to their seats night after night as the show ran for 711 performances. A less than successful film version was released in 1973. After the failure of Jeeves in 1975 (with Alan Ayckbourn replacing Rice) Lloyd Webber returned to form with Evita, an approximate musical biography of Eva Peron, self-styled ‘political leader’ of Argentina. It was preceded by high chart placings for its album’s much-covered singles, most notably Julie Covington’s ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argentina’ and ‘Oh! What A Circus’ from David Essex.

Evita was still on Broadway in 1981 when Cats, based on T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book Of Practical Cats, emerged as Lloyd Webber’s most commercially satisfying work up to that point. It was also the composer’s second musical without Rice, and included what is arguably his best-known song, ‘Memory’, with words by Eliot and the show’s director, Trevor Nunn. Elaine Paige, previously the star of Evita, and substituting for the injured Judi Dench in the feline role of Grizabella, took the song into the UK Top 10. Subsequently, it became popular for Barbra Streisand, among others. (The enduring success of Cats would later see the show confirmed as the longest-running musical of all time in both London and New York, although the latter record was eclipsed in 2006 by another Lloyd Webber production, The Phantom Of The Opera.) With Song And Dance (1982), which comprised an earlier piece, Tell Me On Sunday (lyrics by Don Black), and Variations composed on a theme by Paganini for his cellist brother, Julian, Lloyd Webber became the only theatrical composer to have three works performed simultaneously in both the West End and Broadway. Two items from Song And Dance, ‘Take That Look Off Your Face’ and ‘Tell Me On Sunday’ became hit singles for one of its stars, Marti Webb. Produced by Cameron Mackintosh and Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Company, it was joined two years later by Starlight Express (lyrics by Richard Stilgoe), a train epic with music which was nicknamed ‘Squeals On Wheels’ because the cast dashed around on roller skates pretending to be locomotives. Diversifying further into production, Lloyd Webber presented the 1983 comedy Daisy Pulls It Off, followed by The Hired Man, Lend Me A Tenor and Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart’s On Your Toes at London’s Palace Theatre - of which he had become the new owner.

Like Sullivan before him, Lloyd Webber indulged more personal if lucrative artistic whims in such as Requiem, written for his father, which, along with Variations, became a bestselling album. A later set, Premiere Collection, went triple platinum. A spin-off from Requiem, ‘Pie Jesu’ (1985), was a hit single for Paul Miles-Kington and Sarah Brightman, the composer’s second wife. She made the UK Top 10 again in the following year, with two numbers from Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom Of The Opera (adapted from the Gaston Leroux novel), duetting with Steve Harley on the title theme, and later with Cliff Richard on ‘All I Ask Of You’. The original ‘Phantom’, Michael Crawford, had great success with his recording of another song hit from the show, ‘The Music Of The Night’. Controversy followed, with Lloyd Webber’s battle to ensure that Brightman re-created her role of Christine in the Broadway production in 1988. His US investors capitulated, reasoning that future Lloyd Webber creations were guaranteed box office smashes before their very conception. Ironically, Aspects Of Love (lyrics by Charles Hart and Don Black), which also starred Brightman (by now Lloyd Webber’s ex-wife), was rated as one of the failures (it did not recoup its investment) of the 1990/1 Broadway season, although it eventually ran for over 300 performances. In London, the show, which closed in 1992 after a three-year run, launched the career of Michael Ball, who had a UK number 2 with its big number, ‘Love Changes Everything’.

In April 1992, he intervened in the Tate Gallery’s attempt to purchase a Canaletto. Anxious, that it should remain in Britain, he bought the picture for £10 million. He was reported as commenting ‘I’ll have to write another musical before I do this again’. That turned out to be Sunset Boulevard, a stage adaptation of Billy Wilder’s 1950 Hollywood classic, with Lloyd Webber’s music, and book and lyrics by Don Blackand Christopher Hampton. It opened in London on 12 July 1993 with Patti LuPone in the leading role of Norma Desmond, and had its American premiere in Los Angeles five months later, where Desmond was played by Glenn Close. Legal wrangles ensued when Lloyd Webber chose Close to star in the 1994 Broadway production instead of LuPone (the latter is said to have received ‘somewhere in the region of $1 million compensation’), and there was further controversy when he closed down the Los Angeles production after having reservations about the vocal talents of its prospective new star, Faye Dunaway. She too, is said to have received a ‘substantial settlement’. Meanwhile, Sunset Boulevard opened at the Minskoff Theatre in New York on November 17 with a record box office advance of $37.5 million. Like Cats and The Phantom Of The Opera before it, the show won several Tony Awards, including best musical, score and book. Lloyd Webber was living up to his rating as the most powerful person in the American theatre in a list compiled by TheaterWeek magazine.

Lloyd Webber’s knighthood in 1992 was awarded for services to the theatre, not only in the US and UK, but throughout the world - at any one time there are dozens of his productions touring, and resident in main cities. Among his other show/song honours have been Drama Desk, Grammy, Laurence Olivier, and Ivor Novello Awards. Cats, together with Starlight Express andJesus Christ Superstar, gave Lloyd Webber the three longest-running musicals in British theatre history for a time, before the latter show was overtaken by Les Misérables. He is also the first person to have a trio of musicals running in London and New York. Jesus Christ Superstar celebrated its 20th anniversary in 1992 with a UK concert tour, and other Lloyd Webber highlights of that year included a series of concerts entitled The Music Of Andrew Lloyd Webber (special guest star Michael Crawford), a smash hit revival of Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the London Palladium, and the recording, by Sarah Brightman and José Carreras, of Lloyd Webber and Don Black’s Barcelona Olympic Games anthem ‘Friends For Life’ (‘Amigos Para Siempre’).

Since those heady days, Lloyd Webber admirers have waited in vain for another successful theatrical project, although there has been no shortage of personal kudos. He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, presented with the Praemium Imperiale Award for Music, became the first recipient of the ASCAP Triple Play Award, and in 1996 received the Richard Rodgers Award for Excellence in the Musical Theatre. In the same year, a revised version of his 1975 flop, Jeeves, entitled By Jeeves, was well received during its extended West End season, but a new work, Whistle Down The Wind (lyrics: Jim Steinman, book: Patricia Knop), failed to transfer to Broadway following its Washington premiere. After being extensively re-worked, it played for two and a half years in London’s West End. A revival of Jesus Christ Superstar re-opened the old Lyceum, just off the Strand, and a film version of Evita, starring Madonna, was finally released, containing a new Lloyd Webber-Rice song, ‘You Must Love Me’, for which they won Academy Awards.

Elevated to the peerage in 1997, Baron Lloyd-Webber of Sydmonton disclosed that the New York and London productions of Sunset Boulevard, which both closed early in that year, ‘lost money massively overall’, and that his Really Useful Group had reduced its staff and suffered substantial financial setbacks. On the brighter side, in January 1996 the West End production of his most enduring show, Cats, took over from A Chorus Line as the longest-running musical of all time, and in June 1997, the show’s New York production replaced A Chorus Line as the longest-running show (musical or play) in Broadway history. The New York production finally closed on 10 September 2000 after a run of 7, 485 performances and the West End production closed on its 21st anniversary on 11 May 2002.

Early in 1998, Lloyd Webber was honoured with Variety’s first British Entertainment Personality Of The Year Award, and two years later he became the largest West End theatre owner, when, with backing from City financiers, he bought the Stoll Moss group of 10 theatres, including the London Palladium and Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, for £87.5 million. In the same month, Lloyd Webber’s latest effort, The Beautiful Game, opened in the West End. Written with comedian/author Ben Elton, it won the London Critics Circle Award for Best Musical.

In 2002, Lloyd Webber shrewdly tapped into the fashionable Anglo-Indian market with his new musical Bombay Dreams, a colourful extravaganza set against the backdrop of India’s famous film industry. The script was provided by actress/author Meera Syal, lyrics by Don Black, and the music by composer A.R. Rahman. The show opened at London’s Apollo Victoria Theatre on 19 June. Two years later, Lloyd Webber teamed up with director Trevor Nunn and lyricist David Zippel for the adaptation of Wilkie Collins’ Victorian ‘sensation’ novel The Woman In White. Maria Friedman played the female lead Marian Halcombe and Michael Crawford returned to the West End stage for the first time in 18 years in the role of Count Fosco.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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