"Andrew Lloyd Webber kind of changed my life," said Thielen. "I'm a sucker for all his music. I grew up with Jesus Christ Superstar. I'm in this business because I saw Cats in Milwaukee. It changed my life."
Thielen is now paying Lloyd Webber back for leading him to a theatre career by conceiving and producing the first revue of the songwriter's music in a generation. Called Now and Forever: The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber, it will open Jan. 23 (after previews from Jan. 16) and run through March 17.
Now and Forever is not the first Lloyd Webber revue: Music of the Night, a concert event created in the 1990s, has been making the rounds for many years.
"One of the things that made us excited about this was not doing the Music of the Night format — tuxes and gowns and mikes — or recreating scenes from the musicals," said Marc Robin, a 16-time Jeff Award winner who has worked frequently at the Marriott. Robin directs and choreographs Now and Forever.
You read Robin's credits right: he is director and choreographer. Dancing is not something that occurs to the average theatregoer when they think about Andrew Lloyd Webber. His musicals are not the toe-tapping sort. But dancing is exactly what they're going to get at the Marriott. The show not only has a singing cast, but a just-as-large chorus of hoofers. "We wanted access to all that dance music," said Thielen, saying that Andrew Lloyd Webber's company Really Useful Group and Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization, which licenses Lloyd Webber's shows, "were always very receptive to dance, and immediately gave permission. They loved the idea of 'Variations' from Song & Dance being used as a through-line in the show."
Among the centerpieces of Now and Forever will be the entire overture of Jesus Christ Superstar, executed as a dance number.
"It's a huge dance show," said Robin. "The dancers are killing themselves. Audiences at Marriott expect dance."
Dance sequences will also theoretically cause the viewer to pay as much attention to the music as they do to the vocalist. "If it's going to be a show about the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber, it has to be about the musicians as much as the singer," said Robin.
Now and Forever took years to get off the ground. "It started with Terry James," the Marriott's executive producer, said Thielen. "He always wanted to do a Lloyd Webber revue." Music of the Night was out there, of course. "I asked several times over the years, about doing Music of the Night. The request was always turned down, because they wanted to keep the concept of a large orchestra on stage. With an arena theatre [like Marriott], that wasn't possible. ...Then, after several successful collaborations with premiere productions of Cats and Sunset Boulevard, Really Useful and Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization approached me with coming up with an all new revue with a more 'theatrical' approach. A list of numbers was forwarded to us to choose from, including music from the new sequel to Phantom of the Opera, Love Never Dies. The Marriott Theatre's orchestrator and arranger, David Siegel, has re-orchestrated all of the music in Now and Forever."
Lloyd Webber's representatives let the theatre choose from 40 different songs. Orchestrations were eventually worked out for 30 songs, of which 20 or so will go into Marriott's production. (The hope is that, when and if the show is licensed for further productions, future theatre companies will be able to choose from the 30 available songs and assemble their own version of the show.)
Audiences can expect a few classics. "Memory" from Cats made the cut, and will be voiced by Linda Balgord, an old Lloyd Webber hand, who starred as Grizabella in the original Broadway production of Cats. Still, Thielen is hoping that theatregoers will hear the song, as well as "Jellicle Ball," also from Cats, anew.
"You take away all the cat costumes, and you hear it in a different way," he said. ("Now and Forever," fans might recall, was the marketing and advertising tagline for the long-running London and Broadway productions of Cats.)
The cast will also include Erin Stewart, Stephanie Binetti, Catherine Lord, Max Quinlan, Ben Jacoby, Brian Bohr, Travis Taylor, Jameson Cooper and Matt Raftery. Dancers include Lauren Blane, Michael Darnell, Ellen Green, Monique Haley, Raymond Interior, Luke Manley, Sam Rogers and Melissa Zaremba.
Also part of the show will be tunes from The Woman in White, Sunset Boulevard, Love Never Dies, Evita and the overture to the little-known Whistle Down the Wind. Lyrics and/or text is by Don Black, Christopher Hampton, Charles Hart, Trevor Nunn (after T.S. Eliot), Tim Rice, Glenn Slater, Richard Stilgoe and David Zippel, with contributions by Amy Powers. As with all new musicals, the preview period and audience response will help determine the shape of the show, and which songs stay — and which go.