Andrew Lloyd Webber

Posted by Dean Piper On September 8th, 2008

Andrew Lloyd Webber celebrated turning 60 this March with a fabulous birthday party for friends and family at his home in Deia, Majorca. But now the theatrical legend is being treated to a full blown celebration concert hosted by John Barrowman in Hyde Park on Sunday 14th September.

John will introduce music from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s best-loved shows including Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor® Dreamcoat, Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita, Cats, Starlight Express, The Phantom Of The Opera, Aspects Of Love and Sunset Boulevard.

The 70-piece BBC Concert Orchestra is leading the festivities with performances from Steve Balsamo, Duncan James, Lee Mead, Idina Menzel (Wicked), Elaine Paige, Rhydian (X-Factor), Joss Stone, Julian Lloyd Webber, Hayley Westenra, stars of BBC One’s I’d Do Anything and the 100-voice Crouch End Festival Chorus.

The evening’s repertoire includes Jesus Christ Superstar, I Don’t Know How To Love Him, Another Suitcase, Don’t Cry For Me Argentina, Memory, Pie Jesu, Music of the Night, All I Ask Of You, Love Changes Everything, No Matter What, As If We Never Said Goodbye and Any Dream Will Do.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Birthday in the Park takes place on Sunday 14th September in Hyde Park. Book online at bbc.co.uk/radio2 or phone 0844 412 4638*

*Calls from BT landlines charged at local rate; other networks and mobiles may be higher. £2 transaction fee applies.

Here, in a retrospective chat about his career, Andrew talks about his biggest regrets, working with Madonna and what he likes for breakfast!
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Hi Andrew, to start with how does it feel to be 60!
The 60th has been and gone in March. We actually did a nice birthday party in Deia. This concert has been entirely put together by the BBC so it will be a great surprise. It’s actually quite fun to sit back and let somebody else organise things. It’s quite fun. I can’t physically do everything. They’ve put together the artists and the songs so I’m looking forward to it. If it was a new show then of course I’d want to be involved! But it’s fun putting my feet up. It’s a bit self serving to put on your own concert. I just want to turn up and make sure I have a lot of friends there.

Are you amazed by what you’ve managed to achieve in your lifetime?
I’m very lucky in many ways – but the luckiest thing you can have in life is working out what you want to do in the first place. Whatever occupation. So few people go through life doing that – they don’t really know what they want to do and not necessarily enjoying what they end up doing. Not only have I done it but I’ve managed to make a lot of money out of it. I’m lucky to have had such a successful career. I’m actually lucky enough to have always done as I want.
I look back at when I was younger and ask myself would I have written an opera with Tim Rice. So many people nowadays are obsessed with things offending people. Today people say you can’t do this because it will offend that community, and then you can’t say this because the Muslims will be offended by it and we’ll end up being talked out of it. And talked out of ideas. Whereas when I was 20 I didn’t think about those thing – you could just do it.
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What do you consider your greatest career achievement?
I think for my greatest achievement you need to look at it in two ways. What’s the most successful and what’s my favourite. I think when it comes to success it’s obviously Phantom of the Opera. But I think in its day Cats was probably the thing that achieved the most for me. It came at a time when the British were not really supposed to do dance. It broke the rules and every single box was crossed – everything was wrong, existing poetry by an American poet in a theatre where even Grease had failed with Richard Gere in the lead and with the director of the Royal Shakespeare Company. Every single thing was negative about Cats and it proved everyone wrong. People said it would die a death in three days and it became the second longest running musical to Phantom. So I was proud to prove people wrong.
And also – every single musical that I’ve written, except one, has had a big chart hit from it. The one that was intended to have chart hits didn’t! Musicals when I started out had lost the contact with the contemporary music scene. Now I think things are better. Something like Into The Hoods is amazing – I tried to get it onto the BBC for the Oliver show but they wouldn’t have it.

Do you feel under a load of pressure this time around with working on the sequel to Phantom?
I think the amount of pressure is about the same with all my new shows. But my next show is the sequel to the Phantom therefore I am going to road test it more than anything I’ve ever done before. I have got to be sure that it’s right before it goes any further. I’ve already road tested the first act and the second will be tested too.
You could just about get away with this sort of thing with the Phantom on a BBC show but I think with a new musical it’s important to take things seriously. On an established show the viewers can make a choice – but it wouldn’t work on a new show – because the viewers do not understand who they are casting.

Will you return for another BBC casting show next year then?
“I’ve been asked to do another Saturday show this year but I think this year I need to give the casting show a rest. I have my own musical in Phantom 2 to get on with and bits and pieces to do in America.
There will not be another custom show with the BBC next year – with me anyway. But I will do the search in 2010 to find Dorothy and possibly Toto the dog. The problem is with Phantom 2 it means I can’t produce the show in full. So I can’t commit to a BBC show until 2010. I can’t just do them – I need to be involved in producing it and you need a team, a theatre and everything else. And Phantom 2 is my first concern right now.

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When will Phantom 2 open?
The plan is to open in October or November next year depending on how things go. It’s funny reading what’s being said by fans on the net. None of them have really got a clue what the story is. A couple of hundred people know what that story really is. It’s a very good story and it’s a thriller and the ending is extremely unpredictable.
We’re already beginning to think about cast and we’ve found one person who I think we’ve even offered it to who will play Madame Giry but there isn’t a Phantom or Christine yet. They are big roles to fill.

What would you say is your biggest mistake?
There are always musicals that I wish I hadn’t written. Well, actually I wouldn’t say I wished I hadn’t. I guess at times there have been occasions where I did a musical because I was simply bored of not doing a musical and maybe the subject wasn’t quite right to begin with. The Woman in White was probably that.
I don’t have anything hugely regretful. My worst decision I ever took was to allow my company to go public. Outside shareholders never understood the business. It taught me that business was not really my sort of thing.

Were you nervous about starting to do a BBC show searching for a star?

Well, nobody knew that Maria was going to work – and it could have been a disaster. I think it worked in both cases because everybody realised I was on the line and it could all flop. Particularly with Joseph being one of my biggest shows. We could not have found talent like Connie and Lee and it could have been a huge embarrassment. These programmes do show that musical theatre is fully alive and well and that was what I always hoped to do.

How did the BBC show come about then?
The Maria programme came from a very simple coincidence. I wanted to cast Scarlet Johannson in the lead role as Maria and her people were really keen. A lot of people didn’t think that without a star in it there was any chance of it being a hit. I had the thought of doing it during the middle of the night of doing a search for a star and then just so happened to talk to someone at the BBC and it went from there. So Scarlet was out and the show came in.

Do you think the Oliver show worked as well?
I think Oliver didn’t connect half as well with the public because neither had I wrote Oliver or was I producing it. I think the public like the thought of my head being on the block so to speak. That it’s a risk. The BBC can’t be seen to be promoting my work. I enjoyed doing Oliver and there were good kids that came out of it. But I don’t think it had quite the same range of appeal.

You own seven theatres yourself – was the BBC show a way of broadening the appeal of musicals in the theatre? And getting bums in seats?
I think the thing is to get people going to the theatre and I don’t care who’s in it or what they are going to see. It’s important that bums are in seats. It’s great news that in these difficult times the number of people still going to the theatre is rising. I go to the theatre all the time to see other shows – I went to a very odd evening at the Roundhouse last year that was like an Indian version of a Midsummer’s Nights Dream and there were a whole bunch of kids there. I asked them what an earth they were doing there and they said: “We come ere because we loved the Maria programme so we put our name’s down to come on a trip to see this.” And that’s what the BBC shows are all about.
Another bunch of kids I bumped into at the National Theatre the other day were seeing Warhorse and they told me they had gone to see it after watching the Joseph show. These were kids that had never been near a theatre and they were at the National. That was great.

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Is it true you produced Timmy Mallet’s Number One record Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini?
Yes, I made the track and then they drafted in Timmy Mallet. I wanted to make a girl band to release that song – a bit like Girls Aloud for a years hits. But the record company were desperate for Timmy – so we did it that way!

How was working with Madonna on the film for Evita?
We had a good recording session and in the middle of which we went around to the local church because I told her the architecture was great and she had to have a look at it.

She performs You Must Love Me on her latest Sticky and Sweet world tour – have you been?
Madonna has asked me to go and have a look at the show. I really remember working with her and the song we did was amazing and it was original. I’m very interested to know how it works in the show. I thought her voice was always good. Technology to correct voices wasn’t as good as now. And she could sing it then. She sings well. It’s her unadulterated on the original record. I have no idea how she stays that fit though. We all just don’t know how she does it. It’s exhausting to watch.

Would you consider working on a Diana musical?
I don’t think a Diana Musical is a good idea. I don’t see that one working. I really don’t. I think the compilation jukebox musicals can be a bit hit and miss too. Jersey Boys works and Mamma Mia does work too. There were four versions of that and nobody thought that would work! But it did.

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You recently spoke up for Amy Winehouse – are you still wishing her well?
I went out on a limb to stand up for Amy Winehouse. I just hope she can truly get better, I think she’s one of the really original talents we have right now. It’s just incredibly sad that it’s gone to a point where people are probably frightened of working with her. That’s a real worry when that happens. She is a major talent and you can only hope.

Do you watch soap operas?
I have never seen a soap opera in my life even though I’ve been in Hollyoaks. I didn’t see that either.

What do you have for breakfast?

I have an apple for breakfast. I’m rather fond of apples. I have them all cut up. I sometimes like toast. But I don’t like feeling all stuffed up in the morning.

Do you check out other musicals in London?

If I’m up in London then I might go and check out another show. I’m really wanting to check out Zoro actually.

At 60 would you consider plastic surgery?

No I wouldn’t. I have a little procedure on my eye recently to stop it watering. But I wouldn’t otherwise. Actually. I suppose if one was offered a whole job lot then one might consider it!