Happy Birthday, Andrew Lloyd Weber! Some Familiar Favorites From a Great Composer
Like Lerner and Lowe, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Leonard Bernstein, and Stephen Sondheim, England's foremost theater composer, Andrew Lloyd Webber (born March 22, 1948), has left an indelible impact on the modern musical stage. In fact, no individual currently working in those realms has created as emphatic an impact on today's theater,...
Like Lerner and Lowe, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Leonard Bernstein, and Stephen Sondheim, England's foremost theater composer, Andrew Lloyd Webber (born March 22, 1948), has left an indelible impact on the modern musical stage.
In fact, no individual currently working in those realms has created as emphatic an impact on today's theater, given the fact he's managed to meld an ear for popular music with the structure of the stage. His résumé says it all -- he's composed a total of 13 musicals, a pair of film scores, and a requiem mass and, in so doing, garnered a knighthood, inclusion in the Kennedy Center Honors, seven Tony Awards, three Grammy Awards, an Academy Award, 14 Ivor Novello Awards, seven Olivier Awards, and a Golden Globe.
Can you say impressive? We can.
Lloyd Webber developed his talents from an early age, beginning with a suite of six pieces he composed at the uncommon age of 9. A precocious child, he produced a number of amateur productions for his family that likely motivated him to later acquire several theaters on London's West End.
His first production with Tim Rice, the man who'd become his ongoing musical collaborator, was The Likes of Us in 1965, although it would be some 40 years before the show was actually produced onstage. In the interim, he would write and produce any number of major blockbusters, including the early rock operas Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (1968) and Jesus Christ Superstar (1970), Evita (1976), Cats (1981), Starlight Express (1984), The Phantom of the Opera (1986), Aspects of Love (1989), and Sunset Boulevard (1994). Demonstrating the fact that his ambition is apparently boundless, Lloyd Weber's latest project involves a revival of the Wizard of Oz.
Still, Lloyd Weber's career hasn't been without controversy. In fact, some of his melodies may have been a bit too memorable, according to various detractors who have accused him of plagiarism. "I Don't Know How to Love Him" from Jesus Christ Superstar was said to have borrowed a melody from classical composer Felix Mendelssohn, while Pink Floyd's Roger Waters claimed that Lloyd Webber used some of the riffs from Floyd's "Echoes" for sections of The Phantom of the Opera.
A far more obscure songwriter named Ray Repp insisted that particular melody was stolen from him, but unlike Waters, he actually chose to file a lawsuit, which was eventually dismissed. Former Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman also accused Lloyd Weber of nicking his material as well, specifically a section of his 1977 album Criminal Record that he says was similarly integrated into Phantom. Others have charged that key passages from both Phantom and his symphony Requiem were taken from works by the composer Puccini. A Dutch composer named Louis Andriessen even went so far as to say that Lloyd Weber has "yet to think up a single note; in fact, the poor guy's never invented one note by himself."
Whatever their origins, a number of songs from Lloyd Weber shows have become integral staples in today's pop canon, resonating well beyond their theatrical origins. They include:
"The Music of the Night" (from The Phantom of the Opera)
Initially made famous by Michael Crawford, the actor who originated the role of the Phantom both in the West End and on Broadway, the song has sold millions of copies worldwide and has also been translated into a number of different languages.
Crawford later sang the song as a duet with Barbra Streisand for her album Back to Broadway. Lloyd Weber's ex-wife, actress/singer Sarah Brightman, claims that he wrote the song for her, and she's performed it with various alternate lyrics. In addition to its many other cover versions, champion skaters Meryl Davis and Charlie White used the song while ice dancing at the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver, winning a silver medal in the process.
"I Don't Know How to Love Him" (from Jesus Christ Superstar)
Originally a torch ballad sung by the character of Mary Magdalene, this song had the distinction of boasting two simultaneous entries in Billboard's Top 40, those being versions by both Helen Reddy and Yvonne Elliman. Other artists who have recorded the song include Petula Clark, Agnetha Faltskog of ABBA, actress Elaine Page, Shirley Bassey, Nell Carter, Sinead O'Connor, Judy Collins, and Bonnie Tyler.
Reddy's version became her first signature song and led to a contract with Capitol Records. Ironically, though, it was originally offered to her future label mate Linda Rondstadt, who turned it down, claiming that she hated it. Bad move, Linda!
"Don't Cry for Me, Argentina" (from Evita)
Evita began life as an album prior to its stage performances. It was given to British singer Elkie Brooks, but when she declined, it was given to another British singer, Julie Covington. The single subsequently climbed to number one in the U.K., selling almost a million copies in that country alone.
Again, bad move! During the 1982 Falklands War between the United Kingdom and Argentina, the song took a sarcastic tone when it was played by several British regimental bands as they deployed to the Falklands. The song was banned in the Philippines during the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos due to the fact that Marcos' wife, Imelda, had a life story that paralleled that of Evita Peron.
Still, the song garnered dozen of covers, including the versions sung by Olivia Newton-John, the Carpenters, Petula Clark, Elaine Page, Shirley Bassey, the Shadows, Tom Jones, Patti LuPone, Joan Baez, Marti Webb, Donna Summer, Barbara Dickson, Laura Brannigan, Sinead O'Connor, Andrea McArdle, Sarah Brightman, Cilla Black, Idina Mensel, and -- perhaps most notably -- Madonna, who reprised the role of Evita in the popular film version.
"Memory" (from Cats)
Sometimes referred to as "Memories," this is the song that defined Cats, mostly due to the fact that it's the only truly memorable song in the show. The lyric, by Cats director Trevor Nunn, was based on T.S. Eliot's poems Preludes and Rhapsody on a Windy Night, and prior to being used for Cats, the tune was pitched for Evita and the original draft of Sunset Boulevard. Several high-profile artists have recorded this song over the course of their careers -- Elaine Page, Barbra Streisand, Barry Manilow, Celine Dion, Sarah Brightman, Shirley Bassey, Petula Clark, and Johnny Mathis, which leaves little doubt as to why the song has been a hit on so many occasions.
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