I've never been one to reflexively bash Andrew Lloyd Webber. Some of his shows I genuinely like, particularly Evita, while other shows I find flawed but enjoyable, for instance Sunset Boulevard. I usually even find something worth liking in each of his mega-hits. Cats has some great instrumental passages, especially "The Jellicle Ball." And the "Prima Donna" sequence in The Phantom of the Opera, though bloated, for some reason invariably makes me smile.
So, I certainly don't consider myself a knee-jerk Lloyd Webber hater. But the more I hear about his current projects, the more I get the impression that ALW's late career is turning into an expanse of easy repetition.
First, there's the upcoming sequel to Phantom, with the rather uninspired title Love Never Dies. I'm not one to assume that any particular show will be an automatic disaster. It all depends on the execution. And just because no musical has ever had a successful sequel, doesn't mean that it could never happen. No, the reason I was disappointed with Love Never Dies is that ALW chose to pursue a Phantom sequel over a far more interesting project.
For years, Lloyd Webber was toying around with the idea of turning Mikhail Bulgakov's brilliantly surreal novel, The Master and Margarita, into a stage show. The book takes place in Moscow in the 1930s, and involves an earthly visitation by Satan, accompanied by a motley retinue of assistants, including an anthropomorphous cat named Behemoth. It's a richly bizarre and satisfying book, and would make a wonderful stage show, in the right imaginative hands. But ALW gave up on the project, saying the book was too dense. "I've decided it's un-doable," he told the press in 2007. "It's just too difficult for an audience to contemplate. It's a very complicated novel."
No, Andrew. It's not un-doable. It's just that you couldn't find a way to do it. There's a difference. And don't blame the audience for your professional failings.
To a certain extent, it's understandable that ALW would want to play it safe. He hasn't had a true hit in over 20 years. Most of his shows since Phantom have been disasters (Whistle Down the Wind, The Woman in White) or disappointments (Aspects of Love, Sunset Boulevard). He's certainly not hurting for money. The substantial and steady income from Phantom and Cats notwithstanding, he's produced a successful-but-attenuated series of British reality-TV shows to cast a variety of London revivals, including The Sound of Music, Oliver, and his own Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. More easy, lazy repetition.
But the thing that really put me over the edge was the recent announcement that ALW would be penning six new songs for a forthcoming London stage version of The Wizard of Oz, although the classic Harold Arlen/E.Y. "Yip" Harburg songs will reportedly remain. (Have you no shame, Sir. Andrew? At long last, have you no shame?) The show will be cast via reality show (natch) and will likely hit the stage sometime in the 2010-2011 season.
So ALW is taking a well-loved and proven property, supplementing the score with six songs that no matter how good they are will pale in comparison to the originals, and casting the show with the already beaten-to-death reality-casting format, efforts that are lazy, sacrilegious, and lazy, in that order. Let's just say that Love Never Dies had better be spectacular. And I'm not talking chandeliers here.