On March 5, Broadway legend Andrew Lloyd Webber joined his Tony-winning Norma Desmond, Glenn Close, at New York City’s Town Hall for a chat about his life’s work, his musical influences, and his new memoir Unmasked.
Having begun writing at the age of nine, Lloyd Webber went on to compose such classics as Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita, Cats, Starlight Express, The Phantom of the Opera, Sunset Boulevard, and School of Rock. But for those of you looking for some new tidbits about the world’s most commercially successful composer, here’s what we learned last night:
1. The most difficult show to write was Evita.
Webber had trouble connecting with the emotion of characters so morally bankrupt. In the end, he found his way in, but then sais he wrote the most romantic show of his career, The Phantom of the Opera, as an antidote to the toxicity of Argentine politics.
2. Webber holds great story above all else in a musical—including its score.
According to Lloyd Webber, if you have a great story you can get by with an OK score, but it doesn’t work vice versa. Of course, the composer has always aspired to greatness, but as he theorized about musical theatre on the whole he argues there is no substitute for a strong story. That’s why he’s always found joy in the collaboration of building the story through his music, rather than fitting songs into plotholes.
3. His best advice to aspiring musical theatre writers is to put your work up.
Lloyd Webber emphasized the importance of seeing your work onstage. As an example, he recalled his first-ever staging of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat “at a school, at three o’clock on a Friday afternoon, rainy, dreary day.”
4. “Memory” always sounded like a hit.
Lloyd Webber did not intend “Memory” as a song for Cats. He wrote it in the style of Puccini for a show he had intended to compose about the writing of the opera La Bohème (there were two versions of La Bohème written at the same time, one by Puccini and one by Leoncavallo, and Lloyd Webber aimed to dramatize the story). That musical never came to be. But when Lloyd Webber played the song for his father for the first time, his father asked to hear it again. Thinking his father was deciding if it was good or bad, he played it again, after which his father replied, “That sounds like 10 million dollars.”
5. His favorite musical theatre song of all time is “Some Enchanted Evening.”
Anyone who knows Lloyd Webber knows he most admired Richard Rodgers, to whom Webber refers as the ultimate melodist in musical theatre. Webber remembers seeing the original production of Carousel, the original production of The Sound of Music, and the movie South Pacific all around the same moment in his childhood. He pinpoints that time as the moment he caught the bug. The ballad from South Pacific remains his favorite song today.
Ruthie Fierberg is the Senior Features Editor of Playbill covering all things theatre and co-hosting the Opening Night Red Carpet livestreams on Playbill's Facebook. Follow her on Twitter @RuthiesATrain, on Instagram @ruthiefierceberg, or via her website.