Andrew Lloyd Webber: Unmasked review
I have still have a worn and well used copy of the songs from Jesus Christ Superstar from the 70´s, back in the day when we used to actually pay money for sheet music: a quaint custom when viewed from today´s internet free for all grab what you want world. I don´t know how to love him was easy and I was so happy to be able to play that and impress anyone who could bear to hear me play it. On the other hand, there were those tunes in 5/4 and others with such a curious rock rhythm that I honestly could not make them out.
We all came to Jesus Christ Superstar as a kind of graduation from Joseph. Joseph was enough, everyone knew you meant Joseph and his amazing technicolour dreamcoat, sorry, that is Technicolor. When I say everyone, I mean parents, teachers and my fellow school students and myself. Joseph was brilliant: clever, funny, tuneful and, at last, a piece to sing at school that was not embarrassingly old fashioned.
One of my audition pieces for music at university was a piece by Lloyd Webber senior: I couldn´t really play it and I know the professor noticed but I suspect they were short of trumpet players so I got in anyway.
I spent a summer in ´77 ish going to West end matinees and saw Elaine Paige, David Essex and Joss Ackland in the first cast of Evita and even I, a young music student, could tell that this was the future and A Chorus Line, which I saw the day before, was the past of musical theatre.
So in 1980-ish when I started working in London and spent more than I should have to see the ground breaking crazy show without a story on a revolving stage at the New London Theatre called CATS I was knocked out by basically everything but especially by the song, THE song, which you were kept waiting for until after the interval, wondering what the fuss was all about and then realizing this was what you really came for: Memory of course.
Last year I directed a performance of CATS with my students at school and was overwhelmed at how students from many nations knew and loved these great songs and laughed at all the clever lyrics.
I saw Song and Dance and was entranced by songs like Take that look off your face and by Wayne Sleep´s athletic dancing.
I love music theatre and thought very carefully about finding a show that would introduce my son to the genre and inspire him. The show was Starlight Express in London and the combination of great singable melodies and roller skating virtuosity was everything you could ask for to inspire a young child and a young at heart adult.
Phantom of the opera in New York a few years later confirmed for us all that musical theatre can appeal to all the family and engages us on so many levels, from the sheer spectacular stage effects to the emotional power of the music and lyrics.
With all this background I came to read A L W Unmasked and I was totally unprepared. I thought that Sir Andrew had an easy time of it, what with his famous father, establishment connections and early success. Nothing could be further from the truth, as we can see from page after page in the memoirs.
What stands out in the book, time after time, is Lloyd Webber´s unfailing passion for musical theatre and his perfectionist´s striving to achieve the best result in every show he writes. What is a total surprise for me is the large number of shows which either failed commercially or took so many attempts to get off the ground.
I especially enjoyed Lloyd Webber´s accounts of his collaboration with other major players in musical theatre, such as Harold Prince, and this lead me to search Prince´s memoir, Sense of Occasion, which I will review shortly.
The memoir only gets up to the opening of Phantom of the opera: I look forward to the next installment, full of expectation and admiration.