Theater people sing Andrew Lloyd Webber's praises

Jack O’Brien on

‘Love never dies’

Who but Andrew, you know? Let’s not even discuss the relative value, the revelations, the nearly mystical musical journey of this score of “Love Never Dies.” At this writing, the wraps are still covering much of what we are creating over here in London at the Adelphi Theater. But every day I think of the astonishing arc of an imagination that reaches back 25-plus years to “The Phantom of the Opera,” and now still affords him the passion, the conviction, the sheer unadulterated bravery to face those characters, that haunting musical idiom, that evolving story once more. Thomas Wolfe cautions, “You can’t go home again.” Lloyd Webber seems to say “nonsense,” and lifts his singular voice with joy. The sheer audacity alone is breathtaking. “Godfather II”? No one can tell. But you go, Andrew!! A reassuring example to all of us, I suggest.

Jack O’Brien directs “Love Never Dies.”

Hal Prince on

‘Evita’

I’ve enjoyed working with Andrew Lloyd Webber on three occasions. Two represent home runs; the third, I’m afraid, didn’t get to New York. First and foremost, aside of course from his great compositional gifts, is his love of theater, and his sense of what is theatrical. That’s something I’ve shared with a number of composers, and he would be high on the list.

“Phantom” is in its 22nd year on Broadway and its 23rd in London, so I guess it seems to be speaking for itself. However, I would like to point out that the “Evita” experience was uncommonly exciting for me. The structure, the nature of the music and lyrics, was, I suppose, neo-Brechtian. Each episode was different from a previous one, and so it invited uncommon solutions. It was vigorous and energetic, and I guess I would give my right arm (figuratively!) to do a revival of it exactly as it was seen in New York. I have found working with Andrew always stimulating, sometimes unpredictable, and always fun.

In addition to “Phantom” and “Evita,” Hal Prince directed “Whistle Down the Wind.”

Elaine Paige on

‘Cats’

I’ve been lucky enough to work with him on a number of occasions, most notably “Evita,” “Sunset Boulevard” and “Cats.”

I remember I was driving home one night when the DJ announced on the radio he would be playing a new Andrew Lloyd Webber theme just after midnight. As I arrived home, excited to hear it, a rather bedraggled black cat appeared, and superstitiously I urged it to cross my path, believing it was a sign of good luck. In a hurry to enter my house and turn on the radio, I inadvertently left open the door. Scrambling to insert a tape to record the music, I noticed the cat had followed me in and made herself at home.

The melody was so haunting. It captivated me immediately — I knew I had to call Andrew the following morning to ask if I could record it. I fell asleep listening to it over and over again.

The cat stayed the night, and I was awoken the following morning by the sound of the telephone. Would you believe it was Andrew asking if I would like to join the original cast of “Cats”? He told me he had a wonderful song for me to sing in the show, and yes, it was the song on the radio, played at midnight and was called “Memory.” The bedraggled cat that had crossed my path that night lived with me for the rest of her days, and both she and I were named Grizabella.

Elaine Paige played Grizabella in the original production of “Cats.”

David Zippel on

‘The woman in white’

“The Woman in White” was a project that Andrew was passionate about. I think he was drawn to the Victorian setting of the novel and the moody, dramatic mystery of the plot. For this show, Andrew’s intention from the start was to write a more ambitious operatic score. Even before Charlotte Jones (our book writer) and Trevor Nunn (our director) came aboard, Andrew and I began our initial outline of the sprawling over-600-page novel. Andrew had already begun to sketch out musical themes for the characters. Although he can work both ways, Andrew likes to work by writing music first. He pulls the music out of the emotional content of the story. Together we would take these themes as building blocks to write songs and musical scenes that comprise the musical. Andrew also would underscore the scenes, very much like the score of a movie, to add to the dramatic effect.

David Zippel wrote the lyrics to “The Woman in White.”

Howard McGillin on

‘The Phantom of the Opera’

I think it starts with the melody. Andrew has such an amazing gift for melody that sweeps you along kind of an emotional arc that is just unparalleled. I’m doing “The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber” right now, and it’s just one beautiful song after another, and the audiences just eat it up. With “Phantom,” it’s a combination of the melody and then you just have a great team — Hal Prince and the late Maria Bjornson — and then you have the story. All of us identify with the Phantom. We all feel isolated and cut off and unrequited at different times. There’s an amazing alchemy with that show.

Andrew’s impact on acting can also be measured in an amazing amount of employment — so many thousands of people have gotten work for so long from his shows. Certainly from that standpoint, it’s been a great boon to the theater and to Broadway and to touring companies all over the world. I’ve rarely been in a show that had the kind of audience enthusiasm and loyalty that Andrew’s music engenders in people. The fans just come back and back and back. When you have that kind of response from an audience night after night, it’s a great feeling, and it’s certainly something that’s been a rewarding part of being involved with his music. Every time you go out on a stage, you’re trying to win an audience’s approval. That kicks in for an actor — you just wanna be good, and on a simple level, the audience is there, many of them, for the first time, and you know you owe them a decent show. Partly, it’s just that the craft kicks in, and you have to kind of convince yourself that you’re doing it for the first time. Acting is repetition anyway — although rarely does it go to these extremes.

Howard McGillin performed the title role in “The Phantom of the Opera” 2,555 times.

David Rockwell on

‘Phantom: The Las Vegas Spectacular’

“Phantom” was a set show by the time I came to designing the musical for the Las Vegas production. It was clear to me that we not vary the environment from what the late Maria Bjornson had done with the incredible set she designed for the original “Phantom” production. The most significant change we did had to do with the overture, which is short. In Vegas, we have the chandelier being assembled in front of the audience, and that’s when the Paris Opera house is revealed. On Broadway, the fabric is just whisked away. In Las Vegas, we had the chance to create the Paris Opera from scratch and also assemble the chandelier. In order to coordinate these big pieces of the chandelier to music, we developed a rigging system using sandbags to make sure these wiches would move in a graceful, beautiful way so that the chandelier would assemble in front of your eyes. Hal Prince worked with Andrew to tailor the music to that specific movement, and I remember in tech rehearsals the music was letter perfect and it just worked beautifully. It was amazing to choreograph pieces of scenery as the music was adjusted to make that work. Lloyd Webber was there for rehearsals and opening night, and everything worked. He seemed very pleased, indeed.

David Rockwell designed the set for “Phantom: The Las Vegas Spectacular.”

Philip J. Smith on

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s B.O. clout

I think Broadway would have been a lonely place many times if it hadn’t been for Andrew’s body of work. He occupied so many places and did so much business. I can’t imagine what it would have been like without him. No question about it, he created the megamusical and a fantastic string of hits, one after another.

It’s also true that his production of “Cats” was an enormous hit on the road. We not only did the New York and Canada version, we also did the tour. In many places, this saved a lot of theaters. Theaters were under a lot of strain, and then Andrew Lloyd Webber’s shows came along and they really changed the landscape. I’ll give you an illustration: “Cats” was playing Los Angeles — we couldn’t accommodate it at the Shubert because we had “Les Miserables,” so the Ahmanson took it, and their subscription was down in the low thirty thousands. I know this personally because we helped them with it. Their subscriptions just rocketed. They went from 32,000 to 72,000.

Philip J. Smith is chairman of the Shubert Organization.

Betty Buckley on

‘Sunset Boulevard’

The first time I auditioned for Andrew was for “Jesus Christ, Superstar,” and I didn’t even get called back. I remember my audition for “Sunset Boulevard” was an hour and 10 minutes long. I had to sing everything for Trevor Nunn first, and he kept directing me to do it in different ways over and over. It was like running a gauntlet — like some kind of major test. They were set to try out in L.A. and had cast Glenn Close in the lead, so Andrew lowered the key for the songs. So when I was in London learning the songs in the original keys, they told me I’d also have to learn the songs in the Glenn Close keys, and that day when Trevor finished putting me through my paces actingwise, Andrew had me come in and sing the songs in the lower keys.

When I was doing the run of “Sunset” in London, his assistant would just call out of the blue and say, “Andrew wants to meet you, and he’s sending his car.” One time there was this big rock ‘n’ roll icon from the 1950s, and Andrew was playing piano for him, so when I got there he told me he wanted me to sing backup. That was really, really fun that night.

The opening night of “Sunset” in London, it was the first time in British theater history that they had closed a running show, changed it and reopened. Everybody who was anybody in London — British theater royalty — was there. It was a very, very exciting night. Afterwards, I went up to my dressing room and it was the size of a New York apartment — and Andrew was dancing like a little kid! He was so happy and having so much fun.

In addition to her “Sunset Boulevard” assignment, Betty Buckley opened “Cats” on Broadway, playing Grizabella.

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