young andrew lloyd webber -- 4/13/18

Today's selection -- from Unmasked by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Andrew Lloyd Webber, famous for such musicals as The Phantom of the Opera, Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita and Cats, first encountered musicals as a preteen in London:

"Christmas holidays 1958 brought me full frontal with musicals for the first time. It was a bap­tism and a half. I saw My Fair Lady and West Side Story plus the movies of Gigi and South Pacific all in the space of four game-changing weeks. 1958 also coincided with the arrival of [our home's] first long-playing gramophone. With it came an LP of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite. Unfortunately for Dad the other side was Proko­fiev's The Love for Three Oranges Suite whose gloriously dissonant chaotic start much appealed to [my brother] Julian and me. The famous march had us dancing on our bed with joy. Thus started my lifelong love of Prokofiev, in my opinion one of the greatest melodists of the twenti­eth century.

Young Andrew Loyd Webber

"My Fair Lady was the talk of London throughout 1958. The leg­endary musical based on Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion had opened on Broadway two years earlier to ecstatic reviews, apart from one Alan Jay Lerner told me about in Variety that said there were no memo­rable songs. The producers did a brilliant hyping job in Britain by banning the music from being heard or performed until just before the London production opened with the result that the Broadway cast album was the ultimate in chic contraband. Naturally [my] Auntie Vi had one so by the time I saw the show I knew the score back­wards and had long pondered whether Rex Harrison's semi-spoken song delivery had a place at the Harrington Pavilion. London's lather foamed even further as the three Broadway leads, Rex Harrison, Julie Andrews and Stanley Holloway, repeated their starring roles at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane and I was lucky enough to have a ticket to see all three -- actually two because Stanley Holloway was off. It's funny how a disappointment like that stays with you forever. In my case that and the rustling front cloth depicting the exterior of Wim­pole Street as Freddy Eynsford-Hill warbled 'On the Street Where You Live' are what I remember most about that December Saturday matinee -- apart from my showing off by singing along with the songs to show I knew them.

"My love of the score took me to the movie of Gigi, the now impos­sibly un-PC story about a girl being groomed as a courtesan. Can you imagine what would happen if you pitched a Hollywood studio today a song sung by an old man entitled 'Thank Heaven for Little Girls'?' Thank heaven I was young enough only to agree and even today the overture from Gigi is something I relish hearing.

Julie Andrews and Rex Harrison on stage in the tea scene from MY FAIR LADY

Curiously it was Granny Molly who banged on about West Side Story and it was she who took me to it. The American cast's danc­ing was like nothing I'd seen before. That two stage musicals could be so different yet equally spellbinding had me in a tailspin. Granny bought me the Broadway cast album for Christmas and pretty soon it was my favourite of the two. I related to Bernstein's score much as I did to Prokofiev's Love for Three Oranges.

"However what completely pulverized me was the film of South Pa­cific. I went with Mum and Dad and I remember the afternoon I saw it as vividly as the legendary colour filters that would have clobbered a lesser score. I had to wait until my birthday the following March for the soundtrack album. I still treasure my battered worn copy -- incidentally it is the only album to have been No. 1 in the UK charts for a whole calendar year. By Christmas 1961 I knew the scores of Carousel, The King and I and Oklahoma! and had seen the South Pa­cific movie four times. But there was one other movie. It only had a few songs but it grabbed me nonetheless. Elvis in Jailhouse Rock. The 'Jailhouse Rock' sequence had me standing on my seat. I still have the worn-out 45 rpm single that drove my parents to distraction.

"Musicals were soon the staple diet of [a pretend theater at my house]. I wrote tons of dreadful ones. An audience of bored parents and friends, relatives and anyone I could find would gather for the latest offering with [my brother] Julian and me on vocals, and me alternating as pianist and scene-shifter. At its zenith the theatre's stage, were it to have been built lifesize, would have dwarfed that of the new Paris opera house at the Bastille. Subjects included everything from The Importance of Being Earnest to The Queen of Sheba. A whole fantasy town developed around the theatre. Everyone in this town was somehow dependent upon the theatre's well-being. The Harrington Pavilion had a box of­fice through which the townspeople booked tickets. Hits or turkeys were assessed by the reaction of the audience of bored parents and friends."


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author:

Andrew Lloyd Webber

title:

Unmasked: A Memoir

publisher:

HaperCollins Publishers

date:

Copyright 2018 by Andrew Lloyd Webber

pages:

13-15
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