Unexpected Songs: Top Ten Compositions By Andrew Lloyd Webber
By Ben Rimalower
Playbill.com correspondent Ben Rimalower offers a list of his favorite ten songs by Tony Award-winning composer Andrew Lloyd Webber.
These Top Ten lists are tricky. I try to be as objective as possible, which often means favoring the more mainstream hits — there's a reason, after all, these songs had the impact they did. I mean if I were to just follow my heart, I'd sit in my apartment all day listening to The Rink. I suppose a different kind of list might explore songs that function dramatically in the context of a musical, but for now, I'm curious about the songs that linger in my mind and that seem to resonate with my own life.
Click through to read my top ten songs by Andrew Lloyd Webber.
10. "I Don't Know How To Love Him" from Jesus Christ Superstar
"I Don't Know How To Love Him" is perfect as what it sets out to be: A compelling introspection for Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ Superstar, which stands on its own outside the show as a love song. The sweet, folky tune stays with you and the lyrics make just enough of a progression to give the song a dramatic edge. That's why it's a consistent audience favorite and is one of the few showtunes of the last 50 years that can be accurately called a standard.
9. "Heaven On Their Minds" from Jesus Christ Superstar
Although it's strongly rooted in the show's context, "Heaven On Their Minds" is such an engaging exploration of Judas' motivation set to such an exciting melody, that I couldn't leave it off. Also, Bible stories are so allegorical as to automatically resonate on a broader scale than most narratives. It says a lot that this solo is so effective as the opening number of Jesus Christ Superstar. Carl Anderson's performance, set against a sweeping Middle Eastern panorama, gets the movie version off to an electrifying start.
8. "Everything's All Right" Jesus Christ Superstar
Biblical allegory notwithstanding, "Everything's All Right" pretty much violates my rule for this list in that it's an extended musical sequence for three principals and a chorus — an essential chunk of the libretto of Jesus Christ Superstar, but not really a song that can function out of context. Still the main section (the "everything's all right" section) attaches itself tightly to a commonplace phrase and coins a hook you're not likely to forget. And just as Mary sings it to comfort Jesus, out of context the song is still comforting — a modern lullaby with rhythm.
7. "Anything But Lonely" from Aspects of Love
There is a great deal of pretty music in Aspects of Love, but so much of it swirls around in endless repetition that it's easy to get sick of the whole thing. Even the beautiful "Love Changes Everything" is reprised to the point of inducing nausea. So it's a welcome and refreshing turn, when in the final moments of the show, this wholly original song is introduced. The lyrics are generic, but they sit well enough on the music and if "hell hath no fury like a woman scorned," it makes for an engrossing dynamic in performance.
6. "Tell Me on a Sunday" from Tell Me on a Sunday
"Tell Me On A Sunday" is so simple and sweet and sad. This unambitious song is perhaps Lloyd Webber's most perfect piece in its unpretentious success at artfully conveying human experience. People can balk at the lyric about "a zoo that's got chimpanzees," but I buy it as a funny, quirky little moment in this heavy-hearted plea. Later recordings of the song include a high-belting bridge to up the stakes before the last verse, but the essence of "Tell Me On A Sunday" is this plaintive original version.
5. "Buenos Aires" from Evita
There is much to love throughout "Buenos Aires" from the jaunty memorable opening line, "What's new, Buenos Aires?" through peppy patter verses and a winsome bridge, straight out to the memorable mock humility of "just a little touch of star quality." Unfortunately, some of the lyrics are impossible to sing intelligibly — either because of how they're set or because they're just wonky phrases — and the whole thing lacks any specific feeling for the actual city. So, "Buenos Aires" was never likely to enter the collective consciousness of great urban anthems like "New York, New York" and "I Left My Heart In San Francisco," but it's such a fun song, it almost gets you there.
4. "Take That Look Off Your Face" from Tell Me on a Sunday
When Andrew Lloyd Webber and Don Black's one-act solo musical Tell Me On A Sunday premiered as a BBC television special in 1980, the single "Take That Look Off Your Face" became a hit on the British charts, peaking at #3. It's not hard to hear why. The lyrics form an extremely relatable monologue that sounds like something someone would really say, while also effectively riding the music to an elevated level of pop music magic. The unassuming Marti Webb was excellent casting for the show and this song offered her an invigorating break from the doormat called for in most of the text.
3. "Memory" from Cats
What can I say about "Memory"? The song is so huge, it's been heard everywhere, from concert halls to radio stations to music boxes and elevators. The melody is ravishing, high up there with songs from The Phantom of the Opera, on the list of examples of Lloyd Webber's classical music affiliation. The lyric, adapted from a T.S. Eliot poem, is evocative and moving. Would I ever in a million years have wanted to adapt that poem and weave it into a piece of theatre? No, but you can't argue with the mesmerizingly other-worldly power of Betty Buckley's performance of the song.
2. "Rainbow High" from Evita
Although "Rainbow High" is heavily chained to its source and the point in the plot of Evita when Eva sings it (on the eve of her post-inaugural European tour), there's no getting around how much of "Rainbow High" does resonate out of context. For anyone that's ever been made to feel they won't succeed, but persevered anyway, the burning, building drive of "Rainbow High" is infectious — a sort of "Don't Rain On My Parade" for the fascist set. It brought out the epitome of the fierce darkness of Patti LuPone's seminal performance in Evita and, even without the intoxicating chorus chant, this "The Merv Griffin Show" clip of the solo version LuPone performed in her act at Les Mouches is over-the-top thrilling.
1. "As If We Never Said Goodbye" from Sunset Boulevard
Perhaps you've noticed this list is bottom-heavy in terms of Andrew Lloyd Webber's career. I'm far less moved by his later work. It feels to me like as he became more powerful, he was less willing to collaborate, always putting his music first, at the expense of the lyrics and the shows that contained them. I'm keen on much of the music from The Phantom of the Opera and have enjoyed the production on stage, but I don't relate to the songs on a "take-home" level. And Lloyd Webber's later work has been far more "miss" than "hit "for me. One exception was Sunset Boulevard, which I loved as long as Norma was on stage, but found painfully boring and idiotic in its treatment of the B-story with Joe and Betty (and Artie!) outside the mansion. The high point is Norma's return to Paramount Studios — the moment the whole story has built toward — and "As If We Never Said Goodbye" offers an excellent musical realization of this climax.
In a nutshell, divas are my favorite thing in entertainment, Norma is the ultimate faded diva character and this wonderful song is her most tragic, hopeful moment. What could be better? Oh, yes, Patti LuPone playing the part. It's a terrible shame Lloyd Webber fired her from Sunset Boulevard and burned the bridge with the greatest interpreter of his work.
(Ben Rimalower is the author and original star of the critically acclaimed Patti Issues now playing off Off-Broadway. Read Playbill.com's coverage of the solo show here. Visit him at benrimalower.com and follow @benrimalower on Twitter.)
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