Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b 22 March '48 London) Composer of musical shows, the most commercially successful in history. Son of composer Wiliam Lloyd Webber, dir. of London College of Music (d '82). Studied at Royal Academy of Music but was largely self-taught; determined to create successful UK musical theatre. Met lyricist Tim Rice '65; they wrote songs, unproduced musical The Likes of Us, then pop oratorio Joseph And His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, at first about 15 minutes long: staged '68 at a school and well reviewed by Derek Jewell (d '85), pop critic on London newspaper, it evolved '72- -3, full-length version staged five times in London, four in USA. Come Back Richard, Your Country Needs You was unproduced. 'Superstar' from Jesus Christ Superstar was recorded (vocalist Murray Head on US Decca) and promoted by producer Don Norman until it was a hit in several countries; the label was talked into recording the whole show and to everyone's surprise the two-LP set was no. 1 for three weeks in the USA '70: first staged NYC '71, filmed '73; ran in London eight years. Lloyd Webber wrote film scores Gumshoe '71, Odessa File '74. Musical Jeeves was based on P. G. Wodehouse '75; Rice had dropped out and playwright Alan Ayckbourn wrote the lyrics, but the show flopped. Rice proposed a show based on the life of Eva Peron; Evita was recorded '76 with Julie Covington; single 'Don't Cry For Me, Argentina' no. 1 in UK '76 and re-entered charts '78 as the show was staged in London with Elaine Paige and David Essex; it ran four years in NYC with Patti LuPone as Evita ('Another Suitcase In Another Hall', recorded by Barbara Dickson, also charted UK '77). Rice and Webber did not work together again for 20 years.

Rice carried on writing with others, in '85 celebrated 99 straight weeks of his work in the UK singles chart; his show Chess '86 with score by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus (ex- Abba) 'shows the dinosaur mega-musical evolving into an intelligent form of life', wrote Irving Wardle in The Times, perhaps in comparison with the flop Dave Clark show Time. Rice was also 'rock brain of the year' on BBC radio '86 and is a famous cricket freak. He began a new career in the '90s, completing work on lyrics for cartoon film Aladdin, working on the stage version of Disney's Beauty And The Beast ('in which the scenery does most of the acting ... [but] only a cynic or a critic would tire of dancing soup-tureens' -- Sheridan Morley) and on a new show King David '97 (words such as 'bland' and 'bathos' were used by critics). He planned to write a version of A‹da with Elton John, saying to a journalist, 'We're slinging out the problem area, Verdi's music...'

Lloyd Webber formed his Really Useful Company '78 to retain control of his work. Cats began as a song cycle based on T. S. Eliot, another smash hit '81, grossing $400,000 a week in both NYC and Boston; 'Memory' had words by director Trevor Nunn, based on Eliot's 'Rhapsody On A Windy Night'. Lloyd Webber wrote Variations for cello and rock band for his brother Julian Lloyd Webber and 'Tell Me On A Sunday' for Marti Webb, combining them in revue Song And Dance '82. At one time he had four shows running in London; he bought the Palace Theatre for œ1.3m to restore it, closing Song And Dance. With three shows each in NYC and London (Cats booking a year ahead) Starlight Express opened in London '84, based on a train motif, lyrics by Richard Stilgoe. With the Victoria Apollo theatre rebuilt for it and the cast on roller skates, Starlight was the most expensive musical ever mounted and another hit, despite mixed reviews: 'A millionaire's folly, which happens to be open to the public', wrote one paper. It passed the break-even point late '85. Lloyd Webber invested in the Howard Goodall/Melvyn Bragg musical The Hired Man and lost money. Requiem (for his father) was recorded Dec. '84, premiŠred (except for an early draft) Feb. '85, with second wife Sarah Brightman (b 14 Aug. '61), tenor Placido Domingo, boy treble Paul Miles-Kingston: the score has lower strings but no violins (they would conflict with the boy choir's range); the NYC premiŠre was televised and the album topped US classical chart; a single from it sold 40,000 copies in a week in UK. Reviews again were mixed: no religious mystery was explored, but his success with one or two good tunes mixed with musical trademarks cannot be denied. Phantom Of The Opera starred Brightman, with Michael Crawford in the title role, novice Charles Hart writing lyrics: the music was premiŠred late '85, staged early '86, video prod. by Ken Russell; NYC premiŠre early '88 set a record for advance ticket sales; a film by Steven Spielberg was talked about. The Really Useful Company went public '86 to raise money for buying/rehabbing theatres; Lloyd Webber bought it back again '90 using Polygram's money.

The next project was Aspects Of Love, based on '55 novel by David Garnett, then Sunset Boulevard, based on the '50 classic Billy Wilder film. Several actresses have played Norma Desmond in Sunset around the world; others sued him because they thought they had the part but didn't. Lloyd Webber's work was evolving from imitation rock to opera with no spoken dialogue at all, despite a perceived lack of musical originality; the productions have to be praised for technical perfection: the Victorian gloss on Phantom was achieved by micro-circuitry, with 102 tiny trap doors for candles in the Phantom's lair. Jeeves was revived '96, now titled By Jeeves: the complete rework and presentation in the intimacy of Ayckbourn's former base in Scarborough, Yorkshire (a converted cinema) transformed disaster into delight, wrote Benedict Nightingale in The Times. There was a new London production of Jesus Christ Superstar '96, and a new recording.

The saga of a film of Evita ran nearly 20 years. Lloyd Webber and Rice had sold the rights to Australian music tycoon Robert Stigwood (who prod. the original Jesus Christ Superstar). Evita was to be dir. by Ken Russell '82 (in Spain, the Falklands War that year putting Argentina off limits). Rice, Lloyd Webber and Stigwood wanted Paige and Essex, but Hollywood had never heard of them and Russell wanted Liza Minnelli. Along the way Kim Wilde had been considered, with Barry Gibb as Che Guevera, then Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta (with Elton John as Peron). Franco Zeffirelli wanted Diane Keaton as Evita; Sylvester Stallone and Meat Loaf were considered as Che; meanwhile Annie and Pennies From Heaven had been expensive flop Hollywood musicals, and Rice said '83 that nobody really wanted to make Evita. Madonna went to see Stigwood '86 wearing her hair in an Evita bun and a 1940s dress, and it worked. (Rice approved but said he would have preferred Whitney Houston; nobody knows whether he was serious.) Oliver Stone came on board; Madonna had demanded rewriting of lyrics and music and was fired after allegedly calling Stone a pig. Stone brought in Meryl Streep, who took tango lessons from Paula Abdul but demanded too much money; Stone left to work on film The Doors but came back '93 proposing Michelle Pfeiffer, Antonio Banderas and Raul Julia; Stone talked Argentine President Carlos Menem into letting him use key locations (such as the balcony of Casa Rosada, the presidential palace) but Menem had to back down for political reasons and Pfeiffer announced that she wouldn't film overseas; Stone gave up. Alan Parker came on as director and the film was finally made '96 with Madonna, Banderas as Che and Jonathan Pryce as Peron. Madonna was controversial in Argentina but acquired Menem's co-operation by flashing her bra strap at him. Rice and Lloyd Webber wrote a new song for the film, 'You Must Love Me' and kiddie-style merchandising of 1940s fashions was planned to help the film into profit. The reviews were mixed but the song won an Oscar '97.

The next show was Whistle Down The Wind, about children who find a murderer hiding in a barn and decide he is Jesus Christ, from a novel by Mary Hayley Bell, whose daughter Hayley Mills starred in the '61 film. The show has lyrics by Jim Steinman, best known for work with Meat Loaf (Steinman said he could have worked on Phantom, but he'd been busy doing an album with Bonnie Tyler). A film was also planned; Whistle the show opened in Washington DC but its transfer to Broadway and opening in London were postponed until '98. Sheridan Morley thinks Whistle is too good for Broadway and the blue-rinse brigade; he wrote in the Spectator that it is different from anything Lloyd Webber has done, 'a score redolent of love and loss, of death and redemption, and one of the most truly heartbreaking I have ever heard ... a nervy, edgy show of infinite courage about the nature of faith'. Mark Steyn in the Daily Telegraph liked it too. Meanwhile in the New Year's Honours List '97 Lloyd Webber became Lord Lloyd-Webber of Sydmonton, the Hampshire village where he lived, and was selling off his wine cellar, which he'd been collecting since he was a teenager, as well as a house in London's Eaton Square, on the market for œ15m. He was said to have taken a pay cut due to a fall in ticket sales for his older shows, which left him making only œ30m or œ40m a year.

Cats succeeded Chorus Line '97 as the longest-running musical in the history of Broadway; nevertheless Lloyd Webber told Morley that the costs and technical effects may have escalated to the point where the end of the road was in sight for blockbuster musicals. Big was an expensive failure (see entry for David Shire). Ragtime (based on E. L. Doctorow's novel) opened Dec. '96 in Toronto; Benedict Nightingale (of The Times in London) thought Ragtime would be a hit, but everybody had their fingers crossed. Titanic opened in NYC '97: the producer had a fatal heart attack after the first rehearsal, and despite a budget of $10m the stage ship was refusing to sink, but when it was finally launched it looked like a hit, with ambitious music by Maury Yeston reflecting the Edwardian era that was ended by the iceberg. Lloyd Webber's By Jeeves opened in Washington to good reviews in June '97, but its UK production, Aspects Of Love and Sunset Boulevard had all closed; the latter had seven productions in five countries, but lost money because it was so expensive to mount, and the projected budget for Whistle Down The Wind was slashed from œ4m to œ2.2m. But producer Sir Cameron Mackintosh believes passionately in breaking new ground (supports Oxford professorships in theatre, gives grants to young writers) and says that his profits on big musicals go up every year, that Lloyd Webber's biggest hits had been done either with him (Cats and Phantom) or with Stigwood (Evita and Superstar), and that the Really Useful Company had been run by people who didn't know anything about the theatre, hence their productions lost money, while Lloyd Webber 'is surrounded by people who don't fight him artistically'. Lloyd Webber's deal with Polygram for R.U.G. had left him with 70 per cent of the shares but without any hands-on capability (as well as tying up his publishing and recordings and giving Polygram the right to buy it all in 2003), while R.U.G. had been spending its own money on productions instead of finding outside backers (the traditional way shows are put on) and was slated to lose as much as œ10m. He hired a new business manager (John Reid, ex-Elton John) and was taking charge again just as he seemed to be doing his best work.