Lloyd Webber prepares for four shows on Broadway as School of Rock begins in London
As British musical theatre legend Andrew Lloyd Webber prepares to open his latest hit musical School of Rock in London's West End, which began previews at the New London Theatre earlier this week, we take a look at his success.
Earlier this summer he celebrated the return of his 1981 long-running musical Cats to Broadway, giving him an impressive three shows running simultaneously on the Great White Way. As the composer and producer of multiple hits including Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita, The Phantom of the Opera amongst many others, he is certainly no stranger to having multiple shows playing in one city at any one time.
Yesterday it was announced that his 1993 musical Sunset Boulevard will be revived on Broadway at the Palace Theatre, in a production that comes direct from London's Coliseum starring Glenn Close in the lead role of Norma Desmond. The news not only excited theatre fans who welcome the Broadway show back to New York in its first revival, but also put Lloyd Webber in the position of potentially having four of his musicals running simultaneously on Broadway.
The news that he could once again rule Broadway has surprised many but is testimony to his astute ability to create long-running hits that continue to speak to different audiences.
Having initially broken down the boundaries between musical theatre and rock music in his 1971 musical Jesus Christ Superstar, School of Rock sees Lloyd Webber return to a musical arena with which he is quite comfortable. Speaking at the London launch of the show, he told the assembled crowd that he had initially intended to just use music from the film when bringing it to the stage, but found the draw of writing new songs too great to ignore. His rock anthems fit seamlessly into the new production, capturing the spirit and essence required to speak to a contemporary audience, in the exact same way that Superstar was able to bring the sound of the 70s into the theatre.
Lloyd Webber's versatility as a composer is certainly his trump card, and looking at the four musicals that are lining up to play on Broadway together, the range of musical skill and invention is second to none. Whilst not particularly rewarded by critics in New York, his music is able to speak to audiences and add an authentic layer of drama to whichever subject he turns his focus towards. The Phantom of the Opera is currently Broadway's longest running musical, having played at the Majestic Theatre for almost 12,000 performances. Combined with the lush romanticism and the 80s excess within the production itself the show continues to attract new audiences from around the world, often bringing repeat visitors to keep the show alive.
Cats, which is currently running at the Neil Simon Theatre, exploded onto the stage in 1981 and brought a new type of dramaturgy to the musical theatre stage. The original New York production at the Winter Garden Theatre, currently home to School of Rock, played an important part in redefining Times Square and bringing family audiences back to an area of town that had all but become condemned against a challenging context of Broadway openings. The show's endearing appeal mixed a 1980s sound with lyrics by TS Eliot, combined with dazzling choreography by Gillian Lynne to create a new type of musical that continued to delight audiences until 2000.
In direct contrast to the sweeping melodies of Phantom or the synthesized edge of Cats, Sunset Boulevard saw Lloyd Webber create a complete filmic score that captures the essence of 1930s Hollywood whilst creating a number of stand alone hits that are amongst his most famous in his whole canon. Constantly reinvented, recorded and enjoyed out of context, hits such as "As If We Never Said Goodbye" and "With One Look" fit directly into the traditional sound of musical theatre yet exists within the wider context of the show's programmatic and descriptive score that captures time, place and era so perfectly well. The production transferring to New York was applauded by London critics with the onstage orchestra placing the music front and centre, reminding audiences of Lloyd Webber's skill at crafting a complete and exciting musical score.
Having four musicals running simultaneously on Broadway is a feat for any composer, and should that happen come 2 February 2017 as Sunset Boulevard begins previews at the Palace Theatre, it should be a time for celebration for fans of British musical theatre. For a form that is consistently claimed to be American, the British influence is undeniable, and continues to attract audiences thanks Lloyd Webber's musical ability to write in a contemporary and attractive musical language.
Seeing School of Rock on Broadway I was taken at the amount of school age children in the audience, in particular younger boys who have been attracted to the subject matter and the sound Lloyd Webber has helped craft on stage. Taking an 11 year old boy to see the musical was an eye opening insight into how this show once again breaks down audience boundaries, just as Superstar did in the 1970s, proving Lloyd Webber continues to be top of his game.
School of Rock is currently in previews at the New London Theatre.
Sunset Boulevard opens at the Palace Theatre on Broadway in February 2017.
School of Rock
Gillian Lynne Theatre