Andrew Lloyd Webber: a Musical Theatre Virtuoso Essay

For many, musical theatre is an experience that not only posses the power of entertainment, but the power of transformation. Masters of music such as Stephen Sondheim, Leonard Berstein, and George Gershwin used music as a theatrical element by which intense emotions and ever changing moods could be expressed. Their beautiful scores are regarded as the most impressive and moving in musical theatre history. Joining them at the top is Andrew Lloyd Webber, a man who through his compositions has enchanted millions of theatre goers not only on West End but around the world.

Andrew Lloyd Webber was born on March 22, 1948, in London, England. His father was a composer and an organist and his mother was a pianist and violinist. Due to his musically oriented family Webber learned to play many instruments at home and began composing music and a fairly young age, publishing his first piece at nine year old. He attended Magdalen College, Oxford studying history until he left to follow his passion for music at the Royal College of Music. During his years at the Royal College, he began to work with Tim Rice, who would write lyrics to Webber’s music.

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Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (1968), their first successful production, gained worldwide fame placing Webber on the musical theatre map. A television star search entitled “Any Dream Will Do,” the title of a song from the show, aired on BBC in 2007. The American Idol-like show in which Webber himself appeared in, searched for the next “Joseph” for a production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat on West End (Encyclopedia Britannica).

Webber’s next musical Jesus Christ Superstar (1970), a controversial retelling of the life of Jesus set to a mix of classical, rock, and some Calypso music, became one of the longest running musicals in British history. On his final theatrical venture with Rice, they created Evita (1976) based on the life of Eva Peron of Argentina. Evita became a very popular musical which opened both on West End and Broadway, bringing Webber his first Grammy award, as well as two Tony awards, one for best original score and the other for best musical in 1980.

The song “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” became a worldwide hit, which in 1996 was sung by the pop sensation, Madonna in a film adaptation of the musical (Encyclopedia Britannica). Without a lyricist, Webber found inspiration in a children’s book by T. S. Eliot, the musical Cats (1981) was born. It opened on West End on May 11, 1981, at the New London Theatre. Cats ran for a record breaking twenty-one years and 8,949 performances, concluding its reign over West End on its twenty first birthday May 11, 2002. Cats grossed over 12. 3 million pounds on its closing year (which is equivalent to about 20 million US dollars).

The show also opened on Broadway on October 7, 1982, running 7,485 performances, breaking the record for the longest running musical in Broadway history surpassing the musical A Chorus Line. In 1998 a film adaptation of Cats featuring Elaine Paige, who originated the role of Grizabella on West End, was produced. The musical phenomenon has been translated into over twenty languages and has been broadcasted on television worldwide. In recognition of his amazing work, Webber was awarded two Tony awards, one for best original score and another for best musical, as well as the Grammy award for best cast show album in 1983(Smithsonian).

After the huge success of Cats, Webber composed the music for his next project, The Phantom of the Opera (1986), based on the novel Le Fantome de l’Opera by Gaston Leroux. The show follows the journey of Christine Daae, who is the main interest of a disfigured musical genius, known, as the title of the show, as “The Phantom of the Opera. ” Phantom opened at Her Majesty’s Theatre on West End on October 9, 1986, and has surpassed Webber’s previous musical Cats, taking the title of second longest running musical in West End history, behind the musical Les Miserables.

Phantom later opened on Broadway at the Majestic Theatre on January 26, 1988, where it still resides today, making Phantom the longest running Broadway musical ever, beating out the previous record held by Cats. Phantom grosses over 35. 5 million dollars each year, with over 550,000 people in attendance. Webber received the 1988 Tony award for best musical for his work on The Phantom of the Opera (New York Times). Webber’s musical talents have given him recognition in fields other than theatre as well.

In 1992 he was knighted as Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber by Elizabeth II and in 1997 he was named a life peer as Baron Lloyd-Webber of Sydmonton. In 1995 he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame as well as being awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for live theatre. He was also raked fifth in the 2008 Telegraph’s list “the 100 most powerful people in British culture. ” In 2006 Webber received the Kennedy Center Honors alongside Dolly Parton and Steven Spielberg. On top of all these awards Webber has also received seven Tony awards and nine nominations, as well as three Grammy wards(Smithsonian). Webber in total has written eighteen shows, as well as many orchestral pieces such as Requiem, a Grammy winning piece, written in memory of his father. He is also an incredible producer and songwriter. He has written songs for many famous artists including Elvis Presley’s “It’s Easy For You” in 1976. He also has received an Academy award for best original song for “You Must Love Me” from the film adaptation of Evita as well as a nomination for “Learn to be Lonely” from film adaptation The Phantom of the Opera (New York Times).

Webber is currently writing a sequel to The Phantom of the Opera entitled Love Never Dies. The strange new musical sequel is set in Coney Island and is projected to open sometime in 2010. While writing this new musical, around October 2009, Webber was diagnosed with prostate cancer. It is said to be in its early stages therefore he is expected to make a complete recovery (New York Times). Although theatre has many elements such as comedy and tragedy, music is one essential element that aides the conveying of real feeling. Music has the power to inspire us, to change us, to make us understand and think.

This awesome power in the context of a musical is what makes it a great theatrical experience. Andrew Lloyd Webber uses his incredible musical talents to transform us into the different worlds through each musical, leaving the audience and fans worldwide wanting more of his powerful work.

Works Cited

“A Composer’s Cancer, a Singer’s Collapse. ” New York Times 26 Oct. 2009: C2(L). Student Resource Center – Gold. Web. 9 Dec. 2009.. Jesse McKinley. “‘Phantom’ Breaks Record With 7,486th Show. ” New York Times 10 Jan. 2006, Late Edition (East Coast): New York Times, ProQuest.

Web. 8 Dec. 2009. ” Lloyd Webber, Andrew, Baron Lloyd-Webber of Sydmonton . ” Encyclopedia Britannica. Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, 2009. Web. 8 2009 . Michael Walsh. “The Curiosity of Cats. ” Smithsonian 1 Oct. 2007: Platinum Periodicals, ProQuest. Web. 8 Dec. 2009. Paul Sonne. “Entertainment & Culture — Theater: ‘Phantom’ Sequel Plan Is Unmasked — Lloyd Webber sets March date for London opening of Coney Island-set tale. ” Wall Street Journal 9 Oct. 2009, Eastern edition: Wall Street Journal, ProQuest. Web. 8 Dec. 2009.