When director Scott Ellis and his collaborators set out to create a musical concert out of the songs of Andrew Lloyd Webber, they pored over a list of every song he'd ever written like Talmudic scholars.
"We called it the Bible," said the director, adding that, like Joseph's coat of many colors, this Book of Andrew seemed to have songs to fit every emotion. "This is a guy who is very prolific, and the characters he writes, Evita, Jesus Christ, Norma Desmond, the Phantom, all know what they wantand go for it."
The musical concert, Andrew Lloyd WebberMusic of the Night, celebrates its first anniversary on tour this month by playing New Orleans (June 3-9), Atlanta (June 10-16), St. Louis (June 17-23) and Dallas (July 8-21). The show stars Kevin Gray, who was last seen as the Engineer in the Los Angeles company of Miss Saigon, and also features Janet Metz and Patricia Ben Peterson. But, aside from Lloyd Webber, who seems to dominate everything he does, the most influential theatre artist involved in the show is Ellis.
In the last decade the actor-turned- director has emerged as one of the hottest talents in musical theatre, even though he is also a director of drama, having earned solid notices for his productions of William Inge's Picnic and Ivan Turgenev's A Month in the Country. Still, Ellis's reputation has been built largely on his acclaimed Broadway and West End revivals of the 1963 Jerry Bock-Sheldon Harnick musical She Loves Me and his New York City Opera productions of Stephen Sondheim's A Little Night Music and 110 in the Shade by Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones. He was also the director of the recent Roundabout revival of Sondheim's seminal 1970 musical, Company.
The director's eventual pairing with the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber, brought about through Canadian producer Garth Drabinsky, seemed almost inevitable, given his experience in the concert and revue format. His breakthrough show came in 1990 when, working with his frequent collaborator David Thompson, he took emotional highlights from the Kander and Ebb catalogue and whipped them together for the popular hit revue And the World Goes 'Round. Two years later, he directed and co-conceived with Thompson SondheimA Celebration at Carnegie Hall.
"When Garth approached me about doing this, my response was 'It's been done before,'" says Ellis, referring to a 1989 concert tour of Lloyd Webber music starring Sarah Brightman, who was then his wife. "But I thought if we could do it in a really theatrical way, it wouldn't be just a 'Then-he-wrote' evening."
For Ellis and Thompson, "theatrical" means "no stools"and hiring such musical theatre veterans as set designer Tony Walton, costumer William Ivey Long and choreographer Susan Stroman to help him elevate the various moods of the evening into what he calls "a sweeping emotional journey"one propelled by songs predominantly from Sunset Boulevard, Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita, Aspects of Love, Cats and, of course, the mega-mammoth hit, The Phantom of the Opera. "Andrew writes very large themes with great passion," says Ellis. "It's not the sort of music that invites a lot of thinking. That's actually hard to do with his stuff. But if you just listen to the music, something just picks you up and takes you away. I think that is what accounts for his phenomenal success with the masses."
By Patrick Pacheco