Andrew Lloyd Webber

The British musician Andrew Lloyd Webber (born 1948) was the composer of such musical theater hits as Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita, Cats, Starlight Express, The Phantom of the Opera, and Aspects of Love. His early successes brought him four Tony awards, four Drama Desk awards, and three Grammys.

Andrew Lloyd Webber was born on March 22, 1948, in London, England. His father was the director of the London College of Music and his mother, a piano teacher. Thus, Lloyd Webber came by his musical ability naturally. As a boy he played piano, violin, and French horn. Excerpts from his first musical composition, The Toy Theatre, were published in a British music magazine.

As a child, Webber aspired to become Britain's chief inspector of ancient monuments. He won a Challenge Scholarship to Westminster and in 1965 entered Oxford as a history major. In the 1980s he exercised his love for history via Sydmonton Court, his country estate, whose oldest section dates from the 16th century and where his compositions were tried out at yearly festivals.

Other childhood pastimes of Webber's surface in his works and his approach to their staging. His keen ability to envision fully-mounted productions of even his most spectacular pieces may have emanated, at least in part, from his experience as an 11-year-old working with his elaborate toy theater, built to scale. Webber's lifelong fascination with trains was exhibited in Starlight Express (1984). Some consider this his childhood fantasy gone awry, an adulteration of the famous story of the little engine that could.

Webber's formal education ended after only one term at Oxford. He left to begin work on the never-to-be-produced musical The Likes of Us, which is based on the life of British philanthropist Dr. Bernardo. Webber's career was inextricably linked with that of lyricist Tim Rice, and their partnership began with this musical.

The duo's next effort was Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (1968, extended 1972), at first a concert piece, then expanded into a two-act production. The score demonstrates what were to become the Webber trademarks of shifting time signatures and styles, ranging from French cafe music to calypso, country, jazz, and the popular rock idiom.

In Jesus Christ Superstar (1971), popular music was presented in classical operatic form. Conceived first as a demonstration disc for Decca, it began the Webber/Rice tradition of recording first, then producing. The score boasts the hit single "I Don't Know How To Love Him." The 1971 Broadway version was directed by Tom O'Horgan, of Hair notoriety.

When Rice became disenchanted with a proposed musical based on the works of P. G. Wodehouse, Webber teamed up with British playwright Alan Ayckbourn on the unsuccessful Jeeves (1974). During this period Webber also composed the film scores for Gumshoe (1971) and The Odessa File (1973).

Webber and Rice were paired once again for Evita (1976), the story of the dangerously manipulative actress-courtesan who married Argentinean dictator Juan Peron. Veteran Broadway producer Harold Prince was commandeered to direct the 1978 and 1979 productions on both sides of the Atlantic. Evita faced the criticisms that have consistently plagued Webber's compositions. He was accused of "borrowing" songs and his work was called "derivative, " "synthetic, " and a "pastiche."

Webber's next (and less impressive) production, Song and Dance (1982), was the result of the fusion of two of his earlier pieces: Variations (1978) and Tell Me on a Sunday (1979). Variations (1978) is a set of cello variations written for his brother, Julian, and Tell Me on a Sunday (1979), is the story of an English working girl who moves to New York and through a series of relationships.

Cats (1981) constituted the composer's personal and professional watershed. Based on T. S. Eliot's volume of children's verses, Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, the production was staged by Royal Shakespeare director Trevor Nunn and its extravagant scenery was created by John Napier. Rice was called in to provide assistance on the lyrics for the now-famous "Memory, " but his words were abandoned in favor of Nunn's.

Webber found himself attracted at first vocally, then romantically, to performer Sarah Brightman. She was a castmember in Cats, and in 1983 he abandoned his first wife, Sarah Hugill, for her. He later married Brightman and she was cast as the female lead, Christine Daae, in The Phantom of the Opera.

With Cats, spectacle became the key to success both in London and on Broadway. It was only natural that a production like Starlight Express would follow on its heels. Webber and Prince were paired again for the romantic 1986 production of Phantom of the Opera.

Webber's production Aspects of Love (1989) was in many ways a "retread." The score is filled with tunes retrieved from Webber's past, reworked for the occasion.

Webber turned his attention toward his production company, Really Useful Theatre Group, Inc., in the 1980s. In April 1990 he announced his intention to take a hiatus from writing musicals and to turn to moviemaking, perhaps even a film version of Cats with Stephen Spielberg.

Ironically, in July 1990 Webber announced his impending divorce from Sarah Brightman while she was completing her summer concert tour of The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber. However, after the November divorce the couple planned to continue working together, despite Webber's early marriage in London to Madeleine Gurdon.

Webber went on to produce Sunset Boulevard, in London, 1993, and in Los Angeles and on Broadway, both in 1994. Besides The Likes of Us (lyrics by Rice), his other unproduced plays include Come Back Richard, Your Country Needs You (with Rice) and Cricket.


Further Reading on Andrew Lloyd Webber

A behind-the-professional-scenes perspective permeates Gerald McKnight's 1984 biography Andrew Lloyd Webber. TIME magazine music critic Michael Walsh's 1989 Andrew Lloyd Webber: His Life and Works (dealt with chronologically) deftly combines intelligent criticism of the composer's works with biographical detail. Richard Melcher, "The Roar of the Greasepaint Is Too Quiet for Lloyd Webber" (TIME, April 23, 1990) discusses the business career and financial position of Webber as he seeks to broaden his talents into other media.