Arguably the most successful composer of our time, Andrew Lloyd Webber also remains among the most surprising. He has found inspiration in the unlikeliest sources, making music from the Old and New Testaments and from the text of the Mass, but also from an urbane Bloomsbury romance, from smoldering French and British gothics, from a game called football and from the melancholy dream of Old Hollywood. He has made unforgettable musicals about just plain singing and dancing, but also about South American politics, British butlers, lovelorn phantoms and American trains. Even about cats-and how many musicals boast Nobel Prize-winning lyrics? It is good to remember how strikingly original a theatrical concept it was to bring together the quirky, cool poems of T.S. Eliot with Lloyd Webber's knowing neoromantic melodies. It is also good to remember that The Phantom of the Opera, the longest running musical in Broadway history, is but one such original gesture in a career marked by originality and surprise.
"No theatrical figure in the last 20 years has appealed so consistently to popular taste as Lloyd Webber," David Richards wrote in The New York Times. "Not just American popular taste or British popular taste, but worldwide popular taste. He has established the vogue for the sung-through musical, brought epic dramas and operatic emotions to the musical stage and helped prove that no subject is off-limits."
Lloyd Webber is the composer of The Likes of Us, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Jesus Christ Superstar, By Jeeves, Evita, Variations and Tell me On A Sunday-later combined as Song and Dance-Cats, Starlight Express, The Phantom of the Opera, Aspects of Love, Sunset Boulevard, Whistle Down the Wind, The Beautiful Game and The Woman in White. He composed the scores of the motion pictures Gumshoe and The Odessa File, and his setting of the Latin Requiem Mass earned him a Grammy for Best Contemporary Composition. As a producer, his work has included not only his own musicals but also the Olivier Award-winning play La Bête, Lend Me A Tenor and Daisy Pulls It Off, as well as an acclaimed revival of Rodgers and Hart's On Your Toes and the groundbreaking West End and Broadway original presentations of A. R. Rahman's musical Bombay Dreams. In 2004 he produced a film version of The Phantom of the Opera, directed by Joel Schumacher. This season alone, Lord Lloyd Webber is producing a major West End revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein's The Sound of Music, his own Phantom of the Opera is enjoying a new production in Las Vegas and his Evita is once again conquering the West End.
Not just a stage creature, Lloyd Webber has written Top Ten singles for a wide variety of singers including Madonna, Sarah Brightman, Michael Ball, Cliff Richard, David Essex, Elaine Paige, Michael Crawford and Boyzone. Among his Top Ten albums are the original cast recordings of The Phantom of the Opera, Aspects of Love, Cats and Jesus Christ Superstar, as well as studio recordings of Tell Me On A Sunday, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Evita, Whistle Down The Wind and Variations.
Among his awards so far are an Oscar and a Golden Globe, seven Tony Awards, six Laurence Olivier Awards, three Grammy Awards, 14 Ivor Novello Awards, a Triple Play Award from ASCAAP, entry into the American Songwriters' Hall of Fame and the Richard Rodgers Award for Excellence in Musical Theater. The Beautiful Game, Lloyd Webber's heartbreaking musical about football against a background of sectarian war in Northern Ireland, was his first to receive the London Critics' Circle Award. He was knighted in 1992 and created an honorary life peer 1997.
Lloyd Webber bought the Palace Theatre in 1983 and now owns and has restored seven London theaters including the Palladium and the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. He is the founder of the Open Churches Trust, an ecumenical organization devoted to the restoration and opening to all of formerly locked churches and synagogues to enable the public to experience these architectural treasures.
Andrew Lloyd Webber is a native Londoner, born in South Kensington in 1948. His father is the composer William Lloyd Webber, his mother the pianist and educator Jean Johnstone Lloyd Webber, his younger brother the world-renowned cellist Julian Lloyd Webber. He was a Queen's Scholar in history at Magdalen College, Oxford, but his studies soon were sidetracked by his passion: He was still a teenager when he met Tim Rice, then a 21-year-old law student, and the two found themselves inventing rock opera and transforming musical theater with Joseph… and then with the international hit Jesus Christ Superstar. What followed, with the prolific Rice as well as with several other collaborators, is the stuff of musical history. And that history did not repeat itself: No one, including Lloyd Webber, could have predicted that his trajectory would move from the life of Jesus to the travails of P. G. Wodehouse's Jeeves, or that these would lead to the Brechtian bite of Evita. No one ever seriously considered T. S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats a serious or even possible subject for a popular musical-but it was a childhood favorite of Lloyd Webber and it, too, was transformed by this genius who in the process made musical history. The monumental opulence of The Phantom of the Opera, itself from the surprising source of a long-forgotten Gaston Leroux novel, did not prepare musical lovers for the delicate, intimate adult pleasures of Aspects of Love, a masterpiece of chamber opera that happens to work as a musical.
Then again, everything Lloyd Webber does seems to work. "He's slightly crazy," said Elaine Paige, who created the tragic role of Evita and also had a memorable run at Lloyd Webber's deluded Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard. "His mind just darts from one thing to another. It's quite staggering, really."
Crazy and quite staggering, that is the stuff of musical genius.