Like many people of a certain age, I first became aware of the name Andrew Lloyd Webber when Jesus Christ Superstar, the 1970 “rock opera” with music by Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice was released. The two-LP package stoked a a great deal of theological discussion at a point in my life when I had begun questioning my religious upbringing.
The story is “loosely based on the Gospels’ accounts of the last week of Jesus’s life, beginning with the preparation for the arrival of Jesus and his disciples in Jerusalem and ending with the crucifixion. It highlights political and interpersonal struggles between Judas Iscariot and Jesus that are not in the Bible narratives.” I played it incessantly, and know much of it by heart to this day.
Moreover, it generated two Top 100 singles for Yvonne Elliman, who played Mary Magdalene. I Don’t Know How To Love Him went to #28 and Everything’s Alright reached #92, both in 1971. Helen Reddy’s version of the former went to #13 that same year.
Superstar, essentially the title track, got only to #74 in early 1970, but was rereleased and eventually reached #14 in 1971. It was sung by Murray Head, the Judas Iscariot performer, with the Trinidad Singers.
Though written before JCSS, I next became aware of the single album Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, which, in the US, was a reissue of the 1969 Decca UK album. This music has been greatly expanded since then, with some song titles I do not recognize.
Evita, a musical based on the life of Eva Perón, turned out to be the last Lloyd Webber/Rice collaboration. It was first released as a concept album in 1976, then was performed in the West End in 1978, where it ran for ten years. Patti LuPone created the role of Eva on Broadway in 1979, for which she won a Tony.
Don’t Cry for Me Argentina is the best known song, performed by a group called Festival in 1980 (#72 US), and Madonna (#8 US in 1997, from the 1996 movie starring her and Antonio Banderas).
“Lloyd Webber embarked on his next project without a lyricist, turning instead to the poetry of T. S. Eliot. Cats (1981) was to become the longest running musical in London, where it ran for 21 years before closing. On Broadway, Cats ran for 18 years, a record which would ultimately be broken by another Lloyd Webber musical, The Phantom of the Opera.”
Memory is the big hit from Cats, which I heard LONG before I ever saw the show only a few years ago. “Elaine Paige, who originated the role of Grizabella in the West End production, released a version of the song that… peaked at No. 6 on the UK Singles Chart in July 1981… Barbra Streisand’s cover reached #52 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and #9 on the Billboard adult contemporary chart in 1982. In the UK this version peaked at #34 the same year. Barry Manilow released a cover as a single in late 1982; this became the highest-charting version on the Billboard Hot 100 when it reached #39 in January 1983. Manilow’s recording also made the Billboard adult contemporary chart, reaching #8.”
This could go on – the most recent production of Andrew Lloyd Webber is School of Rock, based on the movie – but I did want to cite some of his awards. He was knighted in 1992, and “received seven Tony Awards, three Grammy Awards, an Academy Award… a Golden Globe Award, a Brit Award, the 2006 Kennedy Center Honors, and the 2008 Classic Brit Award for Outstanding Contribution to Music. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, is an inductee into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame, and is a fellow of the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors.”
LISTEN TO the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber
Close every door – Donny Osmond (Joseph – 1999, a straight-to-video film)