Review: ‘Andrew Lloyd Webber - 40 Musical Years’

If this programme is little short of hagiographic, it is for a good reason. Andrew Lloyd Webber may be no saint, but he is the unrivalled king of the musical.

Andrew Lloyd Webber at the White House between Smokey Robinson and Dolly Parton. Lloyd Webber was knighted in 1992 and later elevated to the peerage, but even in a nation that produced Noël Coward, the Beatles, Elton John and countless others, he is musical royalty.

In the 1930s, Noël Coward dominated the London theatre. Coward was an actor, playwright, cabaret artist and painter among his other talents. Although Lloyd Webber has only a single string to his bow - musicals - he has had a presence on the stage, West End and worldwide, for forty years. Like Nile Rodgers, you will certainly have heard one, several or many of his songs, but unlike Nile you will almost certainly have heard his name, unless you’ve been living in a monastery for the past four decades.

The programme, filmed before a live studio audience, includes tributes from the great and the good, and music from selected Lloyd Webber musicals including Jesus Christ Superstar (written originally as an album) and Evita.

If there is one characteristic that stands out about the man it is his ability to come up with ideas that no one else would entertain. More so than even Jesus Christ Superstar, a show about cats was greeted with enormous skepticism. The consensus appears to have been this was going to be either a massive hit or more likely one of the most spectacular flops of all time. Cameron Mackintosh was one of the doubters, but he said after the triumphant opening night of Cats, there were queues around the block, and it was his own first big success, something for which he will always be grateful. As if that were not way out enough, he followed it up with a musical about trains, Starlight Express. His biggest success is Phantom Of The Opera, which has now been running for nearly three decades.

There is plenty of small talk with host Michael Ball about his career from his early collaborations with lyricist Tim Rice down to the present day. Did you know Elvis Presley recorded a Lloyd Webber song? It’s Easy For You was in fact the last thing the King ever recorded. The programme also features a preview from his next musical, an instrumental called Theme From Stephen Ward performed by classical guitarist Miloš Karadaglić. If you haven’t heard of Stephen Ward, he was a tragic figure caught up in a political scandal that today would not raise an eyebrow, yet it led to his suicide in August 1963.

This programme is currently on iplayer for those who can receive it, and don’t forget to visit the Maestro’s own website.

[The above was first published April 1, 2013; the original wasn’t archived.]


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