Andrew Lloyd Webber, turning 70, looks back and forward
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NEW YORK -- Andrew Lloyd Webber's 70th birthday is coming up and it turns out there is something the composer really wants on his special day. More work.
The man behind such blockbuster shows as "Cats," ''The Phantom of the Opera" and "School of Rock" has shows in London's West End, Broadway and on tour, but he'd like to be composing another one.
"The biggest birthday present to me would be to know that I've found another subject. Genuinely, that's what I would most want for my 70th birthday: To know I'm writing," he said.
Lloyd Webber may actually be close to another musical subject but doesn't want to jinx it by revealing details. "Knowing me, I'll find some speed bump along the line," he said.
It's typical of this restless, self-described perfectionist that he's looking forward as his past is being celebrated in words, performances and music.
His autobiography, "Unmasked," is being released this month, along with a massive, four-CD collection of his songs, performed by the likes of Barbra Streisand, Lana Del Rey and Madonna. NBC plans a primetime tribute March 28.
The Lloyd Webber-mania also includes an upcoming live televised NBC version of "Jesus Christ Superstar" starring John Legend and Sara Bareilles, and a new musical featuring his songs at the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey in September. He was the subject of a Grammy Awards tribute, and winter Olympic fans would have noticed Lloyd Webber soundtracks for several skaters.
The book, which he jokingly refers to as a "medium sized doorstop," covers the years from his birth to the birth of "The Phantom of the Opera." It's honest and very funny.
"I just hope it shows a little more about me to people who perhaps don't know me," he said in his apartment overlooking Central Park. "I just hope I've told some of the funniest stores and they're not too boring for people."
Readers will learn how close he was to being cast as Mozart in the Oscar-winning film "Amadeus," the time he scribbled the title song in "Jesus Christ Superstar" on a paper napkin, how Judy Garland inspired "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" and the moment he accidentally exploded a bottle of Champagne all over Barbra Streisand's hors d'oeuvres.
He also corrects the record about his first meeting with mega-producer Cameron Mackintosh. They did not consume four bottles of burgundy over a long lunch. "It was three bottles and two kirs," he writes.
One of the book's most fascinating sections involves the troubled creation of "Cats," which became a global phenomenon. Lloyd Webber had to put his own money into the show and watched its progression nervously.
There were warning signs: The show was his first without lyricist Tim Rice, with whom he's had success with "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" and "Evita." He was working with a then-unknown producer in Mackintosh and a director who'd never done a musical. Lyrics came from a dead poet, T.S. Eliot. The musical director resigned after having a nervous breakdown.
"We were asking people to believe that human beings were cats. It appeared to have no story-line," Lloyd Webber said. "There was not one ingredient that anybody could see was anything other than a recipe for the worst disaster that had ever happened in the history of musical theater."
Lloyd Webber is positive he'd be unable to get backing for a show like that on Broadway today, though he cheers the imagination of current hits like "Hamilton," ''Dear Evan Hansen," ''Come From Away" and "The Band's Visit." None seem safe bets: "Every single one of those four would be considered to be written by somebody who terminally insane," he said, laughing.
His 480-page autobiography ends in 1986 with "Phantom": "I resembled a jelly about to enter a pizza oven." But he doubts he'll write a second volume. By the end of the first, several key relationships have frayed and betrayal is felt.
"On the way down sometimes is when you see peoples' true colors. I don't want to write about that. I never want to write about the bad side of people or things," he said.
Jonathan Burnham, the book's editor at HarperCollins, said the book offers charming anecdotes along with Lloyd Webber's thinking about music, including the mechanics of putting on musicals.
"What makes the book so valuable and entertaining is his voice, which is unshackled," Burnham said. "It's like spending a delightful series of evenings with a witty friend who's lived lots of interesting experiences."
The CD collection of 71 songs proves Lloyd Webber's range, including a song he wrote for Elvis Presley, orchestral suites, and tunes performed by everyone from Donny Osmond to Beyonce. Lana Del Rey performs "You Must Love Me" and Nicole Scherzinger does "Memory."
"I'm rather unfashionable now because I'm not sure that melody is as fashionable as it was," he says. "What I do is melody and I still believe there's a place for that."
With that, one of music history's most successful composers is itching to get to the airport, and back to work in England.
"I've already said I'm the most boring person I've ever met. I do not intend to bore people any further," he said. "I just want to get to the theater and get on with the next case."
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits