Discover Broadway – ALW

Tiffany Chang - 2A Chemical
Posted on: January 14, 2017

It’s great to be back! I hope that everyone had a relaxing and safe holiday season and that you are having a great start to 2017.

This term, we will continue our journey through the wonders of musical theatre. However, I hope to enrich your experience and knowledge of this great art by exploring some behind-the-scenes gurus, underrated performers, and the history of this art.

To kick off things off, let’s meet one of the greatest composers of musical theatre.

Andrew Lloyd Webber is an English composer and impresario—arguably, he is one of the greatest composers to have ever graced the art with his work. Even if you are unfamiliar with musical theatre, you have probably heard one of his compositions at some point in your life—“The Music of the Night” from The Phantom of the Opera, “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” from Jesus Christ Superstar, “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” from Evita, and “Memory” from Cats are some of his most recognizable works.

Lloyd Webber grew up in a family of accomplished musicians; his father William was director of the London College of Music, his mother Jean is a piano instructor, and his brother Julian is a successful concert cellist. When Lloyd Webber was nine years old, he published his first composition—six short pieces called The Toy Theatre Suite. His musical idol of the time was Richard Rodgers, the composer behind musical classics, such as Oklahoma!, The King and I, and South Pacific.

Lloyd Webber found his musical soulmate in college, and it was no other than Tim Rice, who was a record producer and aspiring lyricist at the time. Yet unproduced, their first collaboration was the musical The Likes of Us, which was based on the life of the Victorian philanthropist Dr. Barnardo.

However, their second collaboration, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, received excellent reception. The show was a creative adaptation of the biblical tale of Joseph and his twelve brothers. The dynamic duo were not afraid to experiment, as demonstrated by the blend of opera, rock, country, and calypso in this show’s musical score

Their next piece also followed a biblical theme—the widely popular rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar. The musical followed the last seven days in Jesus’ life and was first released as a concept album. The album sold nearly three million copies in the United States. Since the album was very well-received, the Broadway production attracted unprecedented advance ticket sales of more than $1 million in 1971—despite inevitable protests from religious groups who were aghast at the parodic portrayals of biblical figures and the questions that the show raised about Jesus’ life as a man. Critics conceded that the show was not only provocative in its content but also in its innovation for music theatre. Jesus Christ Superstar was by no means the first rock musical to be produced, but Lloyd Webber singlehandedly popularized the idea of a music theatre composer’s palette to include the choice of rock.

Lloyd Webber and Rice then moved onto Evita—this work turned out to become an even greater success than Jesus Christ Superstar. Like Jesus Christ Superstar, a concept album of Evita was first released. This show followed the life of Eva Perón, the wife of Argentine dictator Juan Perón. Even though it sparked controversy for glorifying the right-wing Peróns, some audiences still recognized the musical “as an allegory of the deteriorating political situation in England in the mid-1970s”. Personally, compared to Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita contained a more diverse selection of music: classical music opened the show in “Requiem for Evita”, rhythmic Latinate styles were featured in “And the Money Kept Rolling in (And Out)”, and pieces like “Oh What a Circus” were very rock in nature. Evita took home seven Tony Awards in 1980, including those for Best Musical, Best Original Score, Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical (Patti Lupone), and Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical (Mandy Patinkin). Evita was revived on Broadway in 2012 at the Marquis Theatre, with Elena Rodger in the title role, and closed in January 2013 after 337 performances.

Lloyd Webber’s next greatest hit was The Phantom of the Opera, in which he collaborated with lyricist Charles Hart. This musical holds a very special place in my heart because it was the first musical that my parents introduced to me, which speaks volumes in and of itself,—since they were never heavily invested in music theatre—and it was the first musical that I saw live—sadly, the Las Vegas production that I saw closed in September 2012 at The Venetian.

Phantom is occasionally operatic in style when certain characters are featured; however, it maintains the form and structure of a musical throughout the show. The original London production won seven Tony Awards in 1988, including Best Musical, Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical (Michael Crawford), Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical (Judy Kaye), Best Direction of a Musical (Harold Prince, who also directed Evita), and Best Scenic Design (Maria Björnson, who also took the Tonys for Best Costume Design and Best Lighting Design for Phantom). The show celebrated its 25th anniversary in London on October 1 and 2 in 2011 at the Royal Albert Hall.

Lloyd Webber certainly flexed his creativity muscles throughout his entire career, as demonstrated by his diverse set of repertoire. Most importantly, he was courageous to explore controversial topics in his musicals.

I believe that the most powerful aspect of art lies here. Great art is meant to bring to light topics and ideas that are typically taboo to discuss in public, such as politics and religion. Furthermore, it should also propel us to call to question phenomena in our society.

Thus, it is composers, such as Lloyd Webber, who are unafraid to challenge the status quo when it comes crafting their art with different stylistic palettes. As much as I love listening to the classics of Rodgers and Hammerstein, it is also a nice change to jam out to one of Lloyd Webber’s rock musicals or to belt along with one of his more ‘traditional’ shows.

Tune in next week to watch me rave about one of my favourite Canadian musical performers!