Born March 22, 1948, in London, England; son of William Southcombe (a composer and director of the London College of Music) and Jean Hermione (a piano teacher; maiden name, Johnstone) Lloyd Webber; married Sarah Jane Tudor Hugill (a singer and musician), July 24, 1971 (divorced, 1983); married Sarah Brightman (a singer and actress), March 22, 1984 (divorced, 1990); married Madeleine Gurdon, February 9, 1991; children: (first marriage) Nicholas, Imogen. Education: Attended Magdalen College, Oxford University, 1965; Guildhall School of Music, 1965-66; and the Royal College of Music, 1966. Composer of musicals, including The Likes of Us, 1965; Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, 1968; Jesus Christ Superstar, 1970; Jeeves, 1975; Evita, 1976; Tell Me on a Sunday, 1980; Cats, 1981; Song & Dance, 1982; Starlight Express, 1984; The Phantom of the Opera, 1986; and Aspects of Love, 1989. Composer of Variations, 1977, and Requiem, 1985. Composer of filmscores for Gumshoe, 1971, and The Odessa File, 1974. Producer and co-producer of numerous plays and musicals in London and New York City. Purchased a battery of playhouses in London in 2000. Addresses: Home-- Sydmonton, Hampshire, England; New York City. Office-- The Palace Theatre, Shaftesbury Ave., London W1V 8AY, England.

British composer Andrew Lloyd Webber "has spun a worldwide empire unmatched in the history of musical theater," wrote Michael Walsh in Time. The first composer, in 1983, to have three musicals play simultaneously on Broadway and London's West End--a feat he duplicated in 1988--Lloyd Webber has amassed a string of hits and awards in his twenty-year career with such shows as Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita, Cats, and The Phantom of the Opera. Known for their elaborate productions and lush scores, Lloyd Webber musicals have enjoyed lengthy stage runs--in 1991 Cats was playing in its ninth year on Broadway--while touring professional productions have played in more than fifteen countries across North America, Europe, South America, Asia, and Australia. Also a noted theatrical producer and entrepreneur, Lloyd Webber is the founder of the sprawling Really Useful Group, which comprises a production company, a music-publishing and record division, a video company, and the refurbished Palace Theatre of London. His personal fortune has been estimated to exceed $200 million.

Lloyd Webber's success can be attributed to his particular blend of showmanship and craft, which have made him a favorite of theatergoers. Productions of his musicals are often lavish, while his musical scores--which display such varied influences as rock 'n roll, country, blues, and opera--demonstrate his often-praised gift for melody. Critics differ wildly, however, on Lloyd Webber's contributions to musical theater. To some, as John Rockwell commented in the New York Times Magazine, "he is the savior and regenerator of the very genre of the musical," "a composer of melodic genius and telling theatrical savvy," and "as a producer,... regarded as a resource for the revitalization of the musical on both sides of the Atlantic." On the other hand, others regard Lloyd Webber as "a cheap panderer to the lowest common denominator, derivative and faceless" or "the instigator of the current penchant for glitzy spectacle on Broadway." Rockwell points out, however, that "one thing about Andrew Lloyd Webber on which all squabbling observers must agree,... is that he is hugely, even astonishingly successful."

Lloyd Webber grew up among an accomplished musical family. His late father William was director of the London College of Music, his mother Jean is a piano instructor, and his brother Julian, for whom Andrew composed Variations, is a noted concert cellist. As a young boy, Lloyd Webber played the piano, violin, and French horn, and his first composition, six short pieces titled The Toy Theatre Suite, was published when he was nine years old. He was exposed to many types of music in his household; as he told Robert Palmer in the New York Times, he was "brought up to believe that music was just music, that the only division within it was between good music and bad." Particularly fond of American musicals, Lloyd Webber staged productions in a toy theater he set up in his family's home. His musical idol was composer Richard Rodgers, composer of such stage classics as Oklahoma, The King and I, and South Pacific, the latter Lloyd Webber's personal favorite.

When Lloyd Webber was in college, he was introduced to Tim Rice, a record producer and aspiring lyricist, who shared Lloyd Webber's tastes in rock 'n roll. Their first collaboration was a musical--as yet unproduced--based on the life of a Victorian philanthropist named Dr. Barnardo, entitled The Likes of Us. They achieved recognition for their second collaboration, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, an innovative adaptation of the biblical tale of Joseph and his twelve brothers. Mixing various musical styles, including opera, rock, country-western, and calypso, Joseph was first performed by the boys' choir of London's St. Paul's School, and received a favorable notice from a Sunday Times music critic. It was later expanded into a two-act musical and demonstrated the songwriters' gift for parody, featuring the Pharaoh of Egypt as an Elvis Presley-type performer. Lyricist Rice commented to Walsh: "Without realizing it ... we were breaking new ground by forgetting about Rodgers and Hammerstein."

Lloyd Webber and Rice returned to a biblical theme in their next venture, the hugely successful rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar. A rendering of the last seven days in Jesus's life, the musical--initially unable to find a producer--was released as an album and sold nearly three million copies in the United States. On the strength of the album, the 1971 Broadway production generated unprecedented advance ticket sales of over $1 million and went on to run for 720 performances, despite protests from religious groups who took offense at the parodic portrayals of biblical figures and the questions raised about Jesus's life as a man. Many critics, conceding that the show was provocative, praised its innovations for the musical theater. Although Superstar was not the first rock musical ever produced, as Rockwell noted, it "pretty much established the use of rock within the context of the musical.... What Lloyd Webber achieved was the expansion of the musical-theater composer's resources to include rock, at a time when most American writers for the musical theater continued to resist it."

Lloyd Webber and Rice's next collaboration, Evita, turned out to be an even greater success. Based on the life of Eva Peron, wife of Argentine dictator Juan Peron, Evita employed an elaborate stage production by Hal Prince, including murals, parades, and banners, and a lushly orchestrated score by Lloyd Webber. As with Superstar, Evita was first released as an album, which, coupled with the success of its London stage premiere, created much excitement for its 1979 Broadway opening. Evita went on to run for nearly four years on Broadway, and received a total of seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical of the Year. Despite its commercial success, Lloyd Webber and Rice were criticized, as Walsh reports "for glorifying the right-wing Eva and Juan Peron, even though they intended the show as an allegory of the deteriorating political situation in England in the mid-1970s." However, Frank Rich of the New York Times, a perennial Lloyd Webber critic, stated in the documentary The Andrew Lloyd Webber Story, that "while Evita may in some ways be a naive and simplistic historical view of the Perons, as show business lyric writing Rice's work is very clever, and I think Lloyd Webber responded with a more interesting score and a more varied score than usual."

Rice and Lloyd Webber parted ways after Evita, and in his next stage offering, Lloyd Webber set upon what seemed an unlikely subject: a musical rendering of a group of obscure T. S. Eliot poems entitled Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats. Working with director Trevor Nunn, Lloyd Webber assembled the spectacle Cats, which featured a band of seven synthesizers, full orchestra, special effects, a large cast of singers and dancers in cat costumes, and a specially designed set resembling a larger-than-life junkyard. Cats won several Tony Awards, including the Best Musical of 1983, and featured the hit song, "Memory," which was recorded by several artists, including Barbra Streisand and Judy Collins. Although lacking in plot--a criticism raised against many of Lloyd Webber's musicals--Cats, according to Stephen Holden in the New York Times, "comes closer to solving the problems of the bookless musical than any of Mr. Lloyd Webber's previous scores," adding that "because it is a suite of songs rather than a dramatically structured musical pageant, it isn't weighed down with tedious passages of connective recitative." Rockwell cites Cats as "the key musical in [Lloyd Webber's] career, the show that defined him on his own, [and] established the very idea of a new English musical."

Song & Dance combines two separate Lloyd Webber works, Tell Me on a Sunday, originally a mini-opera for television, and Variations, a choreographed selection of music Lloyd Webber adapted from Italian composer Niccolo Paganini's A-minor Caprice No. 24. Song & Dance ran for two years in London, and was a hit on Broadway with Bernadette Peters in the starring role of Emma. Lloyd Webber's next musical, the fantasy Starlight Express, featured a cast of more than twenty people on roller skates and depicted a competition between various types of trains. Originally conceived as a collection of genre songs--rock, rap, blues, and gospel--Starlight was scorned, as Walsh noted, for being "an overblown extravaganza." Lloyd Webber himself was disappointed with the final outcome. "It was a mistake to have put it anywhere near where it could be considered a Broadway musical," he told Walsh. True to Lloyd Webber's track record, however, the musical was a commercial success on both the West End and Broadway.

Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera, first produced in London in 1986, was one of the most awaited musicals of the 1988 Broadway season, amassing an unprecedented $16 million in advance ticket sales. Based on the 1911 Gaston Leroux novel about a disfigured genius who falls in love with a beautiful Swedish singer at the Paris opera, The Phantom of the Opera is considered to be among Lloyd Webber's most accomplished musicals. Marilyn Stasio noted in Life that Lloyd Webber fans praise "its operative sweep, effusively melodic themes, irresistibly bigger-than-life characters, and above all, the achingly romantic quality of its love story." Rockwell called Phantom "Lloyd Webber's most undisguisedly operatic work yet.... Its Victorian, melodramatic scenario suits his grandiose rock-symphonic predilections, as well as the ingenious panache of [production designer Hal] Prince's staging and Lloyd Webber's knack for even more stirring tunes than usual." Another production marvel, Phantom features a boat sailing along a subterranean waterway and a huge chandelier that appears to crash to the floor.

Lloyd Webber's 1989 musical, Aspects of Love, debuted on the West End and premiered on Broadway the following year. With a complex and twisted plot, Aspects of Love is based on the novel by British writer David Garnett, a member of the famous Bloomsbury literary group. The musical revolves around the intertwining lives and loves of a circle of friends, and nearly the entire show is sung, with little dialogue between characters. The show received many negative reviews--one London critic called it "a second-rate musical, based on a third-rate novel"--yet Lloyd Webber considers it one of his more enduring efforts. He told the New York Times that Aspects of Love would "outlive and outlaugh all my other shows, because 100 percent of the world loves love." Regarding negative criticism of his work, he added: "The reviews from the critics are of no interest to me."

Walsh wrote: "It has been fashionable to dismiss Lloyd Webber as a panderer to the basest melodic cravings of the mass audience, hammering home a few repetitive themes amid overblown orchestral climaxes and distracting technological gimmickry. His scores have been derided as derivative and too dependent on pastiche--meretricious parrotings of his Broadway betters (Rodgers) and his operatic antecedents (Puccini)." Lloyd Webber scoffed at such views of his work and told Walsh: "People talk about commercialism, but in actual fact, I really fight it an awful lot. I don't think that way. I put an awful lot into these scores. It is not just a matter of two or three songs repeated and repeated. If people think it is, they are crazy. The reason why the public responds is that the pieces are very rich."

Lloyd Webber was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1992. Also during the 1990s he created Sunset Boulevard, Whistle Down the Wind, and the Beautiful Game. In 2000 he went on an acquisition spree, buying ten major London playhouses.

One of the reasons Lloyd Webber bought the playhouses was because he was concerned with the way musical theatre seemed to be waning. There were few, if any young talents ready to take his place on the scene. When he found some, he was exultant. In 2002 Lloyd Webber produced the musical Bombay Dreams, an idea of Lloyd Webber's and Shekhar Kapur, but done by others. Basically in this musical Lloyd Webber brings Bollywood to London. Variety said of the play, "Bombay Dreams truly does break new ground." It's the story of a young man who lives in the slums of Bombay but dreams of one day becoming a movie star. Billboard quoted Lloyd Webber as having said, "It's worried me for a long time that new writers were not coming along and staying [in the genre] since Tim Rice and I started some 35 years ago. We badly need new writers, and I think the thrilling thing about Bombay Dreams in London is that we do have completely new and young audiences coming to it."

Another triumph for Lloyd Webber was when China finally, after 50 years of communist rule that forbid such things, allowed musicals back in the country in 2003. The ban was broken first with Les Miserables and then when Lloyd Webber's play Cats made it to the Shanghai stage. It was warmly received and played to sell out crowds for over six months.

In 2005 Lloyd Webber came out with the musical The Woman in White for which Michael Crawford, who was the original Phantom in The Phantom of the Opera, came back to the stage to play the wicked Count Fosco. David Zippel wrote the lyrics. It was hoped by the entire theatre world in London that this would be one of the plays that would revive the life of the sadly dwindling market. "If we can get musicals back again on the map, then it's self-fueling," Lloyd Webber told Variety magazine. The play is adapted from Wilkie Collin's thrilling novel. The New Statesman said, "Lloyd Webber's new production is another celebration of the wonders of modern stagecraft and a tribute to theatrical professionalism. Wilkie Collins has provided another opportunity for him to cook up his familiar musical recipe." It was to open on Broadway in November of 2005.

In 2004 Lloyd Webber's fantastically famous play The Phantom of the Opera was made into a movie. Lloyd Webber wrote the screenplay. Fans of the play and people new to it both flocked to the theatre to see the lavish film portrayal. Lloyd Webber's song "Learn to Be Lonely" from the film adaptation was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song in 2005.

And it doesn't look like Lloyd Webber will be leaving the world of musicals anytime soon. Lloyd Webber's musical Sunset Boulevard, based on the film by Billy Wilder, is to be adapted as a film. It will star Glenn Close as the famous old film star. The movie is scheduled to be released in December of 2006.

by Michael E. Mueller

Andrew Lloyd Webber's Career

Andrew Lloyd Webber's Awards

Drama Desk Award, 1971, for Jesus Christ Superstar; Gold Record, London, 1977, for Variations; New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Musical, 1979, for Evita; Antoinette Perry Award (Tony), (two awards) for Evita, 1980, (two awards) for Cats, 1982, (seven awards, including Best Musical) for The Phantom of the Opera, 1988; Grammy Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, 1981, for Best Cast Show Album of the Year, Evita, and 1986, for Best Classical Contemporary Composition, Requiem; Lawrence Olivier Award, Plays and Players Award, and London Standard Award all for Best Musical, all 1986, all for The Phantom of the Opera; Praemium Imperiale Award 1995; Golden Camera Award, 1996; Richard Rodgers Award 1996; Golden Globe, Golden Satellite, Academy Award for best musical song, all for Evita (the movie), all with Tim Rice, 1997; Variety Club of GB Bernard Delfont Award for Outstanding Contribution to Showbusiness 1997; Academy Award for Best Original Song for You Must Love Me. 1997; London Critics' Circle Award, 2000; nominated for Academy Award, Best Original Song, for "Learn to Be Lonely," 2005.

Famous Works

Further Reading



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