Lloyd Webber told Playbill.com that he is proceeding cautiously and won't decide whether to go forward with a full production until January 2009.
"I have learned very definitely over the last few years that you have to be very sure before you go forward," Lloyd Webber stated, noting that he has abandoned plans to bring the Bulgakov novel "The Master and Margarita" to the stage for precisely that reason: "I couldn't really find anybody who saw in it what I saw in it." Admitting that there were problems with the plot – "the end of it is very confused" – he revealed, "I got myself into that problem with The Woman in White. We had a terrific first act, but actually today, and it was something I had underestimated, there's no secret you can even remotely put on a stage today that a modern audience can find shocking. It was a novel about a faked birth certificate – and people said, 'So what?' That was our mistake – if ever I revisited the piece, we would have to stop at the point where it is revealed that the sisters are swapped in the asylum. So I don't want to make that mistake again, and what I'm going to do is workshop [the new Phantom] and workshop it to the nth degree."
The first act was workshopped earlier this summer at Lloyd Webber's private Sydmonton Festival at his Berkshire country home. "We've already done the first act," Lloyd Webber explained, "and rather like The Woman in White, where the first act worked wonderfully, what we cannot do is presume that the second act is going to as well." Working with director Jack O'Brien, who staged the Sydmonton workshop, and lyricist Glenn Slater, he is now writing the rest of the show, and when they have completed the work, "we are going to do a workshop of the second act, then take a month off and do it again with both halves this time and then we'll see."
Those workshops are currently planned for October and December. "I won't push the button on it till we've done both those workshops. Whether we finally go ahead we will decide in the first week of the New Year. I don't want to let this one out unless we're pretty sure that the basic material is as good as we can get it."
Why a sequel? "Because it's a very, very good story," he says, but adds, "Actually, sequel is slightly the wrong word for it – it is a development of the whole thing. It doesn't go over any of the old ground of the original, and there is no music at all from the original other than one or two little quotes in the orchestrations, which are there for color." An entirely new story has been created, he reveals, by himself, O'Brien and Slater – "and a twist of it was given to us by Ben Elton." Elton previously worked with Lloyd Webber on his 2000 show, The Beautiful Game, and Lloyd Webber said that a re-tooled (and re-titled) version of that musical, now called The Boys in the Photograph, will premiere at the Manitoba Theatre Centre in Winnipeg, Canada in April 2009. "It has been reworked because it is going to be the main entertainment that goes on in association with the World Cup in South Africa next year. We made a big mistake calling it The Beautiful Game because it is not about football – that's incidental to it – but rather about the political angle of where it is set, and that's what they are particularly interested in for South Africa."
Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Birthday in the Park" concert takes place in Hyde Park Sept. 14. For ticket details, visit bbc.co.uk/radio2. It will be broadcast on Radio 2 on Oct. 10.