This spring, theatre fans will have the opportunity to become familiar with the man behind the melodies that have shaped the musical landscape of Broadway and West End musicals for the past 50 years.
Unmasked, the new memoir by Andrew Lloyd Webber, chronicles his early years as a 22-year-old composer on the brink of international success with Jesus Christ Superstar through Evita to the tantalizing London opening night of his enduring mega-hit The Phantom of the Opera. A second volume is promised.
Lloyd Webber, who turns 70 on March 22, is celebrating a landmark 2018. This year marks the 50th anniversary of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, while Phantom enters its record-breaking 30th year on Broadway and 32nd year across the Atlantic. So, how does the man who wrote “The Music of the Night,” “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina,” and “Memory” know when he’s got it right?
“There’s no firm answer to that question,” he confesses. “I wish I could say that there’s a moment where the show is done, and you say, ‘That’s it.’ You go into the rehearsal room with what you think is the show, and then you discover what you’ve got wrong.”
This maxim is perhaps key to Lloyd Webber’s passion to help up-and-coming writers bring their own musicals to the stage.
“The good news is that Broadway at the moment has got some very successful, very innovative new material. Hamilton, Come From Away, Dear Evan Hansen, and The Band’s Visit—all four of them are the kind of musicals that I immediately like. They have subjects where if you were talking to an investor and said, ‘I’m intending to do a musical about a founding father of America who nobody’s ever heard of and it’s going to be in hop-hop,’ they would probably say, ‘Would you please go and kindly jump out the window.’”
Acting as both composer and producer, Lloyd Webber again defied convention when he workshopped his latest musical School of Rock for three weeks at the Gramercy Theatre in 2015 before opening on Broadway.
“It was an incredibly rewarding process,” he says. “We had an audience paying $25 a ticket, and they gave us their opinion. If we had gone out of town, we would have spent far more money, and we would have learned nothing compared to the kind of lessons we learned. It was a brilliant way of doing it, and I wish I had done it before.”
That experience prompted Lloyd Webber to give other up-and-coming musical theatre writers the same opportunity. In 2017, he opened The Other Palace, a West End theatre and creative hub dedicated to discovering and developing new musicals.
“It’s all about new writers coming in and testing material,” he says. “To encourage new writers to come forward, to provide a platform and a place for them to work is a dream.
“I think it’s a very exciting time for musicals.”