18 April 2024
Entertainment Theater

Andrew Lloyd Webber, Darling of the Avant-Garde?

The closing of “The Phantom of the Opera” final spring left a chandelier-sized gap in New York. And as of this summer time, for the primary time in 44 years, there isn’t a Andrew Lloyd Webber musical operating on Broadway.

However now comes an sudden new chapter within the profession of certainly one of musical theater’s most profitable, if not at all times appreciated, composers: A number of adventurous modern administrators are declaring they love his work and wish to put their stamp on it.

Ivo van Hove, the Belgian director recognized for his profuse use of video and viscous fluids, is tackling “Jesus Christ Famous person” in Amsterdam, whereas Jamie Lloyd, the British auteur with a penchant for Pinter and an aversion to surroundings, is sharpening “Sundown Boulevard” in London. In the meantime, in the USA, Sammi Cannold is placing a feminist stamp on “Evita,” whereas Bill Rauch and Zhailon Levingston are humanizing “Cats.”

The reveals, and Lloyd Webber himself, occupy a paradoxical place within the theatrical canon.

Critics have generally dismissed his work as overwrought. This newspaper’s reviewers, particularly, have typically been underwhelmed, initially declaring that “Jesus Christ Famous person” had “minimal inventive worth,” and likewise deriding “Evita” (“like studying countless footnotes from which the textual content has disappeared”), “Cats” (“for those who blink, you’ll miss the plot”) and “Sundown Boulevard” (“lurid”).

However “Evita,” “Cats” and “Sundown Boulevard” gained greatest musical Tony Awards, and all 4 reveals are broadly staged and enormously well-liked. These new productions, reflecting modern traits, are emphasizing psychology and politics over spectacle and sentiment.

Lloyd Webber, 75, mentioned in an interview that there isn’t a grand technique at work right here — that the administrators individually sought permission to stage the reveals. However he additionally mentioned he believes that it’s wholesome to permit others to discover older materials in new methods.

“After we have been approached, we simply thought, ‘Effectively, nice! Why not?’” he mentioned. “You’ll be able to’t simply sit on this stuff.”

Even “Starlight Specific,” certainly one of his zanier musicals, which includes actors on curler skates pretending to be trains, is getting a reboot: Luke Sheppard, the “& Juliet” director, is reimagining it for a run scheduled to start subsequent summer time in London.

The productions come after a tough patch for Lloyd Webber. His newest musical, “Unhealthy Cinderella,” bombed on Broadway final spring, shortly after the “Phantom” closing. However he’s undeterred: In August he signed with Creative Artists Agency, the powerhouse expertise representatives, and in September he named a brand new chief government for Really Useful Group, the corporate he owns that licenses and manages his reveals.

“I actually should focus, within the latter days of my composing life, on creating and writing,” Lloyd Webber mentioned. “It’s thrilling to me that there are such a lot of administrators now coming ahead, who truly are the administrators who all people goes to in the mean time. And it’s very fascinating to me to listen to new minds and see new concepts — a few of them I’m going to love and a few of them not. However why not? I can’t see any doable purpose.”

Here’s a take a look at 4 upcoming reinventions.


Neglect the staircase and the turban. Jamie Lloyd is bringing an intense curiosity in psychological exploration to “Sundown Boulevard” — “placing the emphasis,” he says, “on individuals and their emotional journey.”

With that purpose, he requested Lloyd Webber to remodel some facets of the rating “to lean into the darkness and peculiarity of sure moments which might be dreamlike or nightmarish.” And, to his shock, Lloyd Webber agreed. “He’s been so open,” Lloyd mentioned, “which is sort of loopy.”

The manufacturing, which is now operating at London’s Savoy Theater, ends with a rush of blood and integrates stay digital camera work in a nod to the Hollywood milieu of “Sundown Boulevard.” Lloyd known as it “a hybrid between theater and cinema.”

Lloyd, 42, didn’t develop up seeing theater. However his father, a truck driver, favored listening to point out tunes, and that’s how Lloyd first encountered Lloyd Webber’s songs.

Quickly he had his personal cassette of the composer’s best hits, and he would “pressure my cousins to do performances in the lounge.”

“It was sort of the soundtrack of my youth,” he mentioned.

Quick ahead to the summer time of 2019. Lloyd, by then an acclaimed experimental director, had moved on from his Lloyd Webber fixation, or at the very least so he thought. However when he was invited to stage a musical outside, in Regent’s Park, one present got here to thoughts: “Evita.”

His sneakers-and-spray-paint manufacturing of that present was a hit, and he made a psychological word of Lloyd Webber’s openness to “radical reappraisal.” Then, idled at house through the pandemic, he discovered himself imagining what he might do with “Sundown Boulevard.”

“The characters he chooses to jot down about are bizarre and otherworldly, typically with tormented minds, and the scores take these massive leaps that are good to discover,” Lloyd mentioned. “They’re like fever goals, and so they reply effectively to a extra experimental, much less conventional strategy.”


Sammi Cannold has lengthy been obsessive about “Evita.” At 29, she is 16 years youthful than the musical, however she nonetheless remembers listening to the songs as a child in New York, seeing the revival that starred Ricky Martin, and, as an aspiring director, proclaiming it her “dream challenge.”

She has been nothing if not decided: She directed a manufacturing whereas an undergrad at Stanford; she visited Argentina thrice to do analysis; after which she pitched an “Evita” revival to New York Metropolis Middle.

Cannold’s take is knowledgeable by feminism — “I feel she’s a sufferer and a survivor who discovered to make use of her sexuality as armor,” she mentioned of Perón — but additionally by the regime’s authoritarianism. “After I first began engaged on it, I used to be head over heels in love with Eva — I used to be so obsessed together with her and her historical past, and I couldn’t actually hear any of the criticism,” she mentioned. “I’ve gone on a complete journey, and land in a unique place.”


Even in Belgium, the place Ivo van Hove grew up, “Jesus Christ Famous person” was a giant deal. The idea album was launched in 1970, when van Hove was younger, and the music has lived in his head ever since.

“On the time that I used to be an adolescent, this was enormous — not the musical, however the album — the album was one thing that everyone purchased,” mentioned van Hove, who at 64 has by no means seen a stage manufacturing of the present. “No person might imagine that ‘Jesus Christ Famous person’ could possibly be a rock factor.”

Van Hove, whose manufacturing of “Useless Man Strolling” is that this season’s Metropolitan Opera opener, mentioned he has needed for years to direct “Jesus Christ Famous person.” “Some tasks stay in me for a very long time,” he mentioned.

Now he’s getting his probability, directing an English-language manufacturing that’s set to start performances in January at DeLaMar in Amsterdam.

“I can let you know what pursuits me,” he mentioned. “First, it’s a narrative of a gaggle of associates who turned associates as a result of they believed in a single mission: to care for the poor. Second, these associates turn into a risk to political and spiritual leaders. And third are the geopolitical tensions, on this case with Rome.”

“This stuff,” he added, “really feel like very modern themes.”

How modern? Let’s simply say that in van Hove’s manufacturing, the forged will start the present sporting hoodies. And, he mentioned, some members of the viewers can be seated onstage, as a result of he needs to create a “pressure-cooker” atmosphere.

What’s van Hove’s principle about why Lloyd Webber is drawing ingenious administrators now? “It’s not for nothing that these musicals turned so essential for thus many individuals for such a very long time,” he mentioned. “There’s one thing very human there, even when it’s about cats.”


The manufacturing of “Cats” deliberate for subsequent June on the new Perelman Performing Arts Middle is, at the very least at first blush, probably the most outlandish of this newest spherical of Lloyd Webber productions. Whereas the unique involved a gaggle of cats (clearly) and was set in a junkyard, the characters on this manufacturing can be human beings, and will probably be set within the Ballroom scene, a dance subculture carefully related to Black and Latino drag queens.

“We’re reimagining ‘Cats’ as a queer ball competitors,” mentioned Zhailon Levingston, one of many manufacturing’s two administrators. Outdated Deuteronomy, an astute and admired character, can be head choose.

The thought was the brainchild of the Perelman Middle’s inventive director, Invoice Rauch, who, by his personal description, has been “obsessive about reinventing classics my complete profession,” and who had beforehand directed a “queer ‘Oklahoma’” on the Oregon Shakespeare Pageant. “Over the course of that course of, I used to be considering quite a bit about ‘Cats,’ and I simply stored desirous about the track ‘Reminiscence’ being accomplished in a queer context,” Rauch mentioned. “And I simply discovered it very shifting.”

Rauch, 61, noticed the unique Broadway manufacturing — albeit late in its future, when he determined “it felt essential to examine that off on my cultural bucket checklist.” Levingston, 29, had a unique level of entry: a direct-to-video movie from 1998.

“I’d be on the day care middle, watching ‘Barney,’ and so they stored exhibiting the trailer for ‘Cats,’ and I didn’t know what they have been doing — individuals have been dressed provocatively, and it appeared like possibly we shouldn’t be watching, and in the future my mother and I have been at Blockbuster, and I noticed the black field with the yellow eyes, and mentioned, ‘We’ve to get that,’” he recalled. “For 2 years of my life, I’d simply watch ‘Cats.’”

At one level, Levingston mentioned, he even carried out his personal one-man (effectively, one-child) model of the present for his babysitters.

Now Rauch and Levingston have employed choreographers with a connection to the Ballroom scene, and a gender marketing consultant to assist them navigate the complexities of a gender-nonconforming forged.

“The extra time we spend with the fabric,” Rauch mentioned, “the deeper my respect grows for it.”