Andrew Lloyd Webber - a Cutting Edge Composer
Andrew Lloyd Webber is arguably one of Britain's most prolific exports in terms of sheer musical talent. The volume and nature of his work spans decades, and at the age of 67 he shows no signs of slowing down. As a composer he certainly has his detractors. Critics on both sides of the Atlantic have never been particularly kind to his shows, and amongst theatre performers he has been relegated to somewhat of a guilty pleasure, with composers such as Stephen Sondheim, Jason Robert Brown and Adam Guettel being more 'respectable' to like within the tight theatre community.
Having recently directed a production of Sunset Boulevard I found that more and more people seemed to be ashamed to admit that they enjoy a Lloyd Webber musical. I was met by cast members and audiences admitting in hushed tones that Sunset was an 'acceptable' Lloyd Webber show to like, each time checking over their shoulder to see if they were going to be arrested by the musical theatre police. The popular appeal of his work sees to have pushed him so far into the mainstream that people are afraid to admit that they enjoy his work. The more 'underground' and less celebrated a composer is it seems, the more 'acceptable' it is to like.
I'm proud to say, yes I'm mighty proud to say it - I'm an Andrew Lloyd Webber fan. I'm pretty sure I used to have a poster of him on my wall as a kid. I even remember writing to him when I was in school as part of a project (which was met with a delightful thank you note and a copy of the 'Bombay Dreams' cast recording). I know every word to Cats, Joseph, Starlight Express, Evita and Jesus Christ Superstar and even used to have a play theatre version of Joseph based on the 1991 Palladium production. I regularly went as 'The Phantom' for Halloween. Surprisingly, I still had to come out. Singing "U.N.C.O.U.P.L.E.D" whilst roller-skating down the drive clearly wasn't enough.
As I've grown older, I've certainly become a much more discerning theatre fan(atic). My Lloyd Webber posters have been replaced by original Sondheim Playbills, and I'm more likely to listen to 'The Bridges of Madison County' than 'Whistle Down the Wind'. But a huge part of me adores (and owes) my love for musical theatre to the Lord himself.
It's phenomenal to see this weekend that he remains on top of his game and at the forefront of innovation. In conjunction with his latest musical 'School of Rock', which opens at the Winter Garden Theatre on Broadway this December (the first time one of his shows has premiered first in New York rather than London), a 360 degree music video was released featuring members of the cast and one of the new songs. Using brand new technology, this is a world first for a Broadway musical, making history and proving once again that the Lord has not rested on his laurels, and continues to make history and embrace new media.
Whilst this technology may be a first for Broadway, Lloyd Webber has shown time and again to be up to date with current trends and modern solutions to problems. As reality TV boomed over the past decade, he placed himself at the front of this trend, blending musical theatre with the TV talent search format with hit BBC shows such as 'How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?', 'Over the Rainbow', 'I'd Do Anything' and 'Superstar' for ITV. In each instance, Lloyd Webber responded to the wants and needs of the general public, reviving hit shows with the winners of these formats to head them - giving the West End a much needed boost and general PR campaign that stretched further than central London and the home counties, bringing musical theatre to a wider audience through a modern format.
In 2009 he even took up the task of writing a song for the Eurovision song contest, collaborating alongside Dianne Warren on "My Time", which he performed live in Moscow alongside singer Jade Ewen representing Great Britain on the international stage.
Looking back at his career, Lloyd Webber has been at the forefront at every step. From releasing concept albums of his early hits and promoting the music in the popular music charts in order to grow capital for productions, to releasing 'pop' versions of hits such as "No Matter What", "I Believe My Heart" and "The Perfect Year" in order to publicise his productions - he has pushed to be 'cutting edge' at every turn. Eyebrows have been raised at all stages of his career - who would have thought that a blend of 'Hot Gossip' inspired felines alongside the poetry of T.S Eliot would make a record breaking musical? Challenging the very physical space of theatre, Lloyd Webber redefined what it meant to be an audience member as John Napier's iconic designs for 'Starlight Express' involved the audience in an altogether original and innovative way.
His relationship with America has been equally innovative, and he remains the only British composer who has taken over New York Theatre in such an aggressive way. Phantom is Broadway's longest running musical - a fact that is so significant for a country that lays claim to 'inventing and defining' the form, that a musical by a British composer wears the crown.
Broadway in the 1970s was in decline, with the physical destruction of Times Square and the Theatre district unable to attract sufficient numbers of tourists to survive. Multiple houses were left dark, as investment for new shows simply wasn't available, and Lloyd Webber's 'new age' of musical theatre helped inject a much needed boost to the industry and kick start it into the boom time of the 1980s, alongside the rejuvenation and rebranding of Times Square and New York as a whole thanks to the 'I Heart NY' campaign.
Whilst Lloyd Webber may continue to search for a hit show in the modern age (his latest offering Stephen Ward was unanimously panned and shuttered in a heartbeat), his determination and ingenuity knows no bounds. This latest attempt to push the boundaries is testimony to a career that has redefined a genre and pushed boundaries at every turn. Alongside School of Rock his upcoming projects include writing a song for his ex wife Sarah Brightman to perform in space on the International Space Station. If this isn't being at the forefront of technology and innovation, then I don't know what is.