The Wizard of Musicals, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Talks to

By Mark Shenton
02 Mar 2011

Elena Roger in Evita.
photo by Johan Persson

You've also got Evita heading to Broadway again, in Michael Grandage's production that you produced at the Adelphi Theatre in 2006.
ALW: It was very good, but it didn't hit the spot, commercially. Elena Roger is quite outstanding, and of course she is going to do it on Broadway. I'm not producing it there, though, so I'm a little out of the loop about it. I'm, myself, going to wind down actual production now. Although I much enjoyed doing it, and obviously I would like to do Oz in America, I've got Bill Kenwright helping me on it here. The moment I knew we were going to do new songs, I thought I've got to have a referee. I'm not going to do another production where there is new material but I don't have anybody to bounce off. You do need an outside producer; you can see what has happened with Love Never Dies since Bill's been involved in it.

Yes, Love Never Dies has had a checkered history, hasn't it? You originally announced plans to open this sequel to The Phantom of the Opera on three continents simultaneously….
Thank goodness we didn't!


Ramin Karimloo and Sierra Boggess in Love Never Dies.
photo by Catherine Ashmore

So what happened?
A couple of things went extremely wrong there, and I think one was that due to dates. [Director] Jack O'Brien got involved in the workshop of Catch Me If You Can so we got shunted around; and then of course I got cancer. At the time I thought I was going to be able to control the show far more than I did, but whatever anybody may say, you do take a while to recover from these things. And although I'm in the clear completely now… I was not on peak form throughout. That's probably the best thing to say about it; if I'd had Bill [Kenwright] there as a producer from the word go, he'd have said there are certain things we can't go ahead with. But we'd recorded the album, and it had been very well received; a lot of people thought it was right up there with the others. I think it was a combination of me not being very well, the team perhaps underestimating what it needed, and perhaps everybody thinking it was going to be far easier thing to do than in fact it was.

But it has been overhauled now….
Yes, I said to Bill, "I knew the order's not quite right," so he went in and did this extraordinary work on it, with no pay. It's completely transformed, even though for me as a musician it wasn't a big job to do. Some of them are thoughts that were going to happen for Australia anyway, but Bill has given me the most fantastic blueprint for it now to be got right around the world.

So what's happened to Jack O' Brien and Jerry Mitchell (who directed and choreographed the original West End premiere)?
ALW: They're not involved in the next production planned in Australia, which Simon Phillips from Melbourne Theatre Company is directing. But Bill is a great friend of Jack O'Brien's and a great admirer of his, but it got to a point where everyone was very close to it, and an outside mind was a good idea. We'll have to wait and see what happens: if the Australian production is phenomenal and everyone is extremely pleased with it, then that might be the production that then goes to America. There will be a production that will go to America, it's just a question of what and when. I've obviously got to get Oz to America and Superstar to get up, so it might be that I get another producer to do it there.

But it's a show I'm very confident about. I'm not remotely worried about it. Even though things have been slightly altered order-wise, I've always thought that the score to it will outlive me easily. That's all one can really think about. There are certain pieces of mine that might not: unless somebody can find a way of finding a better end to The Woman in White, for example, that piece ain't going anywhere! I did that [show] because I was bored, and the first act of it that we did at my festival worked an absolute treat, but we couldn't work out the second act. I realized when we were in rehearsal that there was nowhere for it to go from the moment that you discovered that the girls were switched. Until somebody can solve that, The Woman in White has a murky future!

Anna O'Byrne and Ben Lewis will star in the Australian premiere of Love Never Dies.

But The Woman in White does have some wonderful music…
Well, thanks. I always remember Hal Prince saying something to me that has remained with me all my life. Long before I worked with him, he went to see Jeeves at Her Majesty's in 1975, and he wrote me a note, telling me to bank the score. Underneath it, he said, "P.S. You can't listen to music if you can't look at it." I have to say that's absolutely the case!

Of course Jeeves suffered from its reception by the critics, but Love Never Dies has had to deal with something else: hostility in the blogosphere.
That was quite extraordinary. Obviously, you can't stop people who've genuinely come to see a show and don't like it; that's fine. But, as it was discovered in the end, a lot of the stuff posted on the net was completely fake — three months after it opened, we discovered most of those reviews that were put up couldn't possibly have been written by anybody who had actually seen the show. But it duped enough journalists, including The Times, and it came down to a couple who lived in Toronto and were mental Phantom fans, and just did not want anything else to happen to the Phantom. But it took everyone in, and it is a bother, because it was a highly professional done operation. I gave the dossier to Daily Telegraph who found what happened and published an article exposing it all, but damage had been done by that time.

But somebody said to me the other day what Love Never Dies is Madame Butterfly — Puccini thought it was going to be the big one, but opera claque booed it off the stage and it was taken off. He then re-wrote a bit of it, it was re-staged and brought back. And an organized opera claque is the 'Net — it's a modern day version of it.

But musicals often have their own momentum and challenges, don't they?
When you look at Cats, Phantom or Les Miserables — and let's face it those three are the big ones of the '80s — one throw of the dice slightly the wrong way and any one of those could have been derailed. For example, Les Miserables opened to awful reviews — anybody who thinks Love Never Dies had bad reviews should read the Les Miz ones — but if it hadn't been at the Barbican first and it had that advance, which is inbuilt because it was the RSC, would it have ever moved to the Palace, which I'd just bought at the time? It's all about the throw of the dice — what if, for example, we'd done Phantom of the Opera with the Cats team? That could have happened; and if it had, would we even be talking about The Phantom of the Opera now?

You simply never know — the funny thing about musicals, you look at Chicago, for instance, which opened in the same season as A Chorus Line, and I remember seeing it because I knew the musical director Stan Lebowsky quite well, and thinking I preferred it to A Chorus Line, but it was wiped out. And now it's a bigger hit than it ever was.