So, Andrew Lloyd Webber is the second richest music millionaire in the UK, richer even than Cameron Mackintosh, as reported in the Evening Standard. In his recent TV documentary with Piers Morgan ‘When Piers meets Andrew Lloyd Webber’ he claims that he is a very bad businessman. Well, did he fall to the top or is there more to it than that? We did get some clues about his business acumen from his recent appearance co-hosting the Chris Evans radio 2 breakfast show.
On previews and opening nights
Chris Evans wants to know whether ‘The Wizard of Oz’ is still being ‘tweaked’. Lloyd Webber repeats his well-known advice to theatre-goers ‘never go to a musical until 6 weeks in’ (or in the case of ‘Love Never Dies’, 9 months). This is because the Lloyd Webber school of producing doesn’t seem to include the notion of meeting the deadline of opening night. He reports that he was unable to do everything he wanted to with the ‘Wizard of Oz’ because Michael Crawford missed some previews, and he had to rehearse the understudies. Not that we know anything, but aren’t you supposed to rehearse the understudies before you start taking money from the public? Well, this certainly explains why the understudy we saw was still reading his lines from the page. Those who have been patient enough to wait for the Wizard of Oz to ‘settle in’ will find themselves treated to a ‘rather fun fight’ between the tin man and the lion – courtesy of Lloyd Webber. As noted on the Piers Morgan show, he is known for being ‘hands-on’. Perhaps if that is the case, he should turn his attention to ensuring that tickets for the show are not double-booked.
After the setbacks getting ‘Love Never Dies’ on over the pond, you’d think Lloyd Webber would be a bit reserved about the notion of transferring the Wizard. But this is not his style. You’ve got to plant the idea. So we learn that he is tinkering with the show to ‘get it ready’ for Broadway. Of course, without the benefit of owning his own theatre, or the advantages of a ready-made audience, he may find this quite a challenge. But this is the man who wrote a musical about Jesus Christ before it was fashionable.
The master of disingenuity
This is where Lloyd Webber really comes into his own. We have already seen that Nicole Scherzinger from the pussycat dolls has been in negotiations with Lloyd Webber to star in one of his shows. Next thing we know, we are being treated to a world premiere of Nicole singing a gospel version of ‘Love Never Dies’. In a shameless display of mutual backslapping, Chris Evans asks why the single can’t just be released, to which Andrew responds that it’s just a bit of fun, that it was terribly naughty of him to bring it along (what, is it some kind of bootleg?), and that only if the ‘whole country says we need to hear it’ could a release be considered. That’ll be why it gets a second play later in the morning. And just to seal the deal, Andrew reads out a note (from who?) saying that he should dedicate the song to Kate Middleton. Which leads into a masterful piece of fishing – ‘I dimly recalled somewhere along the line or I read somewhere that she’d heard the song…I’ve no idea…it could be completely untrue.’
Stunt casting – the early days
Long before the first TV casting show came about, Lloyd Webber was shamelessly casting celebrities, and he quite happily admits that his priorities are fame rather than talent. As he tells the story of how Philip Schofield came to be cast in ‘Joseph and the Technicolour Dreamcoat’, Andrew tells how he considered Schofield as a successor to Jason Donovan (no comment), ‘and I thought…. he was the number one children’s presenter.’ He goes on, ‘I met him sort of socially’, and tells us that he ‘popped the question’ after a couple of dinners. And at what point did he try to ascertain whether Philip Schofield had any ability as a singer? Well, he did have to audition, as a kind of formality, and even Lloyd Webber admits to being a little surprised. Despite Chris Evans protestations that ‘he was brilliant’, he is not exactly earth shattering. But he would certainly have sold tickets, and that’s the main thing.
And what exactly is Andrew Lloyd Webber’s day job?
Well, we already know that Lloyd Webber is a self-confessed control freak, which makes defining his day-job a bit difficult. Thankfully, we learn that all we needed to do was watch ‘Over the Rainbow’ or any of his other casting shows, as we are told that the key to his TV success is to do ‘your day job’ and be yourself. Well, that certainly explains a few things. And there we were thinking that he was a great composer of musicals (well, he was….once). But it turns out he spends his days watching young women and men parade in front of him in colour-coded uniforms while he sits on a big throne and pronounces on their performance. If only he’d stuck to that other day job, the one where he composed some of the most lyrical and enduring musicals, and left it to the experts to cast and direct them. ‘The trouble is’ says Andrew, ‘that I do love theatre, and I keep coming back to it, whether I like it or not, I keep coming back’. Well, you know what they say about the thing you love.