As we have previously noted, Andrew Lloyd Webber is a master at making seemingly self-effacing comments whilst stabbing his colleagues in the back. It’s no different in his recent interview with Patrick Healy in the New York Times, in which he indulges in some ‘confessions’ which on the face of it seem refreshingly frank. His artistic associates, however, may be less than impressed with his assertion that one of the reasons ‘Love Never Dies’ floundered was because ‘there was nobody around helping me to produce it who was also on the case’. As Mark Shenton has already pointed out in his post on the subject, there was after all a named producer on ‘Love Never Dies’, Andre Ptaszynski. Moreover, it’s an open secret that Lloyd Webber is a notorious control freak, so unless by ‘help’ he meant that there was no-one to lock him in a cupboard while they got on with producing the show, the statement has little credibility. And somehow we doubt that his resolution to just ‘turn up at press nights and smile’ will last very long.
Perhaps a more candid confession in the same interview is that Lloyd Webber found the TV casting shows he was involved in great fun compared to the loneliness and isolation of composing, or as he puts it ‘Writing is hard while working with young performers is nearly always a joy’. We wonder if he felt more able make such a comment for a US paper, whose readers did not have to suffer these programmes and the consequences of them. Of course, these shows can be very addictive, and entertaining, and they can even provide some insight into the performance process – on TV anyway. And if they had been billed as ‘just a bit of fun’ we would certainly have less of an issue with them. But of course we wonder whether the BBC would have been quite so enthusiastic if there hadn’t been some supposed serious purpose behind them. Profits from the public phone vote were put into the BBC’s Performing Arts Fund for aspiring performers, and we are told that the shows are about nurturing new talent and giving musical theatre a ‘shot in the arm’. SOLT even commissioned an audience survey to find out if TV shows were having an effect on the make-up of audiences at the theatre. And while we’re at it, has anyone else noticed the irony of the Andrew Lloyd Webber foundation offering scholarships for musical theatre training whilst its patron continues to undermine the whole idea of drama schools with TV show casting.
Perhaps the real reason that ‘Love Never Dies’ floundered is that TV casting shows have made it impossible for Lloyd Webber to function in the real world. Described by Healy as a ‘near-giddy infatuation’, the appeal of these shows to a workaholic control-freak must be considerable. Whilst the public vote for the winner, they have no choice about the selection of finalists, and Lloyd Webber has the power to override the phone vote at various points. He also gets to advise young performers, judge them (whether or not the public agree), and generally ‘Lord it’ over everyone else. Even John Barrowman confessed to feeling underappreciated on the shows (serves him right). But we should remember that these shows are fantasy. The winners would never have garnered the huge amount of public adulation without the benefit of TV, and the shows would not have benefitted from such massive advance ticket sales without the appearance of a manufactured ‘star’. After three shows like this, it must have been extraordinarily difficult for Lloyd Webber to adjust to the real world of a theatre production cast by normal means. He may also have assumed that because this was a sequel to a hugely popular show, he was half-way there.
And then we have the announcement that there will be a DVD of Love Never Dies. In another attempt to re-write history, the DVD will be of the Melbourne production which Lloyd Webber greeted with the words ‘thank you for making this the show I wished it could be’ as he joined the cast on stage on opening night. Another slap in the face for the original West End cast and creative team, hot on the heels of the news that the show is to close at the end of August. The original production will be allowed to fade from memory, and with it, the appalling reviews. Or as Lloyd Webber more eloquently put it ‘I think with the baggage that it’s got, it might be better to just let it be discovered’. But this is a bold move, because a much wider audience will now be able to judge the show for themselves. Or will we find yet again that unfavourable reviews will be met with the objection that ‘you had to be there’.