While some writers make a splash with one work, there are those artists out there that just churn out hit after hit. In acting, one would think of Meryl Streep; in film, we might mention Steven Spielberg; but for the Broadway musical, our minds go directly to Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Born in Kensington, London, England in 1948, Lloyd Weber has penned some of the most memorable musical scores to have ever graced a performance stage. His works include hippies and cats and political leaders, all with a story to tell and all with a song to sing.
We would like to take this blog post and dedicate it to one of the most prolific composers the musical theater has ever seen.
This story, which was inspired by a T.S. Eliot book titled Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, which was a favorite story of the composer when he was a child. He began to work on this musical in 1977 and previewed some of the music at the Sydmonton Festival in 1980. This event had many attendees but one was of great importance. Valerie Eliot, the wife of T.S. showed up and instantly fell in love with the compositions.
Mrs. Eliot told Webber how much she loved the show and gave him her blessings to move forward with the project. Yet, she would not give permission for a new script to be written and insisted that only poems from the book be used. This demand made it so there was no real script during the rehearsals which confused many of the performers.
Due to this restriction Cats is unique in that most of the dialogue is through song and there are very little spoken word parts in the performance. Also, dancing plays a prominent role in the production.
It is also evident in this musical that Lloyd Webber has a liking for many styles of music. The score consists of genres including jazz, rock, pop, and hymns.
The first production of this musical was in the New London Theatre in May of 1981 in London’s West End. Dame Judi Dench was cast in the lead role for this production but she, unfortunately, tore her Achilles tendon while rehearsing and was unable to go through with the performance. Elaine Paige took her role and this production performed nearly nine thousand times before its final show.
That final performance was broadcast to a park in London for everyone to see since tickets to the actual show were hard to come by.
In 1982 Cats opened on Broadway at the Winter Garden Theatre and is to date the fourth longest-running musical in Broadway history. It has gone on to be reproduced in on many stages throughout the world.
A current Broadway revival of Cats is running at the Neil Simon Theatre, having opened in January of this year. A few weeks ago it brought in more than one million dollars at the box office. Not a bad feat for just one of the many Lloyd Webber works we will be discussing.
The most famous song from this musical is “Don’t Cry for me Argentina”, which exemplifies why Lloyd Webber has been so successful in the musical theater genre. This musical is based on the life of Eva Perón, a prominent political leader and wife of the president of Argentina Juan Peron.
Opening at the Prince Edward Theatre on June 21, 1978 Elaine Page played the lead role in this Andrew Lloyd Webber favorite. It would make its American premiere at the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco but quickly move to Broadway in 1979 with Patti LuPone playing Peron. It ran for nearly four years and had an impressive run of more than 1,500 performances.
Evita was also translated into Spanish and premiered in Madrid at the Teatro Monumental in December of 1980, yet this was not the first Spanish production of the Lloyd Webber favorite. In 1980 a production in Mexico beat the Madrid playhouse to the starting gate.
Tours of this musical have been all over the United Kingdom three times and the United States once. In 1996 the work was adapted for the screen in a movie by the same name starring pop icon Madonna and Antonio Banderas.
Yet, the original West End production took home the Lawrence Olivier Award in 1978, then called The Society of West End Theater Awards, for Best New Musical and one for Elaine Paige for Best Performance in a Musical.
The aforementioned song “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” has even moved on to karaoke lists. It has been covered by The Carpenters, Sinead O’Connor, and Olivia Newton-John. One of the most recognizable versions of this song was from Madonna in 1996 when she played Perón in the movie version of this musical and it topped national charts.
3. Phantom of the Opera
Another successful musical by this composer was inspired when he had the inspiration to work on something romantic. The Gaston Leroux novel by the same name was the basis for this next award-winning show.
The very first performance of Phantom of the Opera was actually performed at the home of Lloyd Webber himself, in Sydmonton, England and the production that day was much different than the Phantom we know today. The actor playing the Phantom wore a full mask which made it difficult for audience members to hear him. This costume proved to be a problem. Tweaks were made on the show and the recognizable mask replaced the hinder someone and previews were ready to be performed.
Which they were, in London’s West End at Her Majesty’s Theatre. Previews ran for a few performances before officially opening at that same theater on October 9, 1986. A little over a year later Phantom was debuting on one of the most famous theatrical streets in the world. This opening happened at the Majestic Theatre on January 26, 1988, and went on to play more than 11,000 shows and is still going strong.
To date, this Andrew Lloyd Webber musical is the longest running show on Broadway and it has no signs of stopping. Besides London and New York, Phantom of the Opera has been produced in theaters all over the world including Vienna, Tokyo, Hamburg, Mexico City, Budapest, Copenhagen, Madrid, and Stockholm. Also, a slew of amateur performances have been produced after the rights to do so were freed in 2013.
In 1986 Phantom of the Opera won two Laurence Olivier Awards and two years later it won several Tony Awards including Best Musical.
Cennarium sat down with Phantom’s longest-running Christine Daaé Sandra Joseph and the actor of the Phantom himself Ron Bohmer and asked about their experience of being part of this Broadway hit, of working with Andrew Lloyd Webber, and more. Watch here to find out what they had to say.
4. Aspects of Love
It is only fitting, after listing the hits, that we throw a sleeper into this all Lloyd Webber list. This production, which was inspired by a book under the same title, was inspired after Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice were asked to compose some tunes for a movie version of the story. The project was shelved but the duo decided, after some time, to try and pen a stage musical version of the novella.
The first production of this Lloyd Webber musical opened at the Prince of Wales Theatre in London’s West End opened on April 17, 1989 and performed nearly 1,500 shows. In 1990 the group that created the London production opened the show on Broadway at the Broadhurst Theatre yet this time it didn’t even reach 400 performances before closing in March of 1991. The initial Broadway venture cost millions, all of which was lost after closing.
Reproductions of this Lloyd Webber work from popping up. A unique form of the musical was produced in Canada in 1991 by Keith Michell, a Shakespearean actor hailing from Australia. It has been shown in Denmark, Japan, Finland, Hungary and other international locations. There was also a tour that housed itself in the Prince of Wales Theatre, the original theater Aspects of Love was shown.
In 1990 this Lloyd Webber musical was nominated for five Drama Desk Awards and six Tony Awards but did not win. Actress Kathleen Rowe McAllen won a Theatre World Award that year for her role in the original Broadway production.
Phantom and Cats are in the list of the 10 of the longest running Broadway shows of all time. Yes, Andrew Lloyd Webber is the mastermind of “only” 2 of them.