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Andrew Lloyd Webber

The Lloyd Webbers are a musical family. William was the head of the London College of Music and his wife Jean was a piano teacher. It therefore surprised no one that their son Andrew was playing violin and piano at the age of five. After he met Tim Rice, a junior employee at EMI Records, he abandoned his history studies at Oxford University. Together, they would form a mould-breaking partnership.

The choir school Colet Court asked the pair to write a brief cantata for the school's end of term concert. Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (1968) was the result. Lasting just 20 minutes, it nonetheless generated enough interest to warrant both an enlarged version and a recording.

Agents Land and Myers offered to pay them £3,000 per year to write songs and deliver a script. They returned with the idea for Jesus Christ Superstar. But its subject matter was deemed sacrilegious and producers also baulked at the thought of staging an oratorio/pop opera. Lloyd Webber and Rice responded by releasing 'Superstar' as a single. It was a hit in America, and they were asked to produce enough material for a double album. Locked away in a Herefordshire hotel, they composed their rock opera in one working week.

Jesus Christ Superstar bore what were to become Lloyd Webber trademarks. This blend of pop and classical music was through-composed (i.e., more or less continuous and with minimal dialogue); the plot examined power and corruption. Suddenly, audiences became aware of a totally new kind of music.

Failed Ambitions

In 1974, Rice and Lloyd Webber worked simultaneously on Jeeves and Evita. Rice, feeling that he could not do justice to P.G. Wodehouse's novels, backed out of Jeeves, giving way to playwright Alan Ayckbourn. The production went ahead, but it ran for only five weeks. Ever the perfectionist, Lloyd Webber took the failure hard. He was becoming a workaholic, while Rice could produce lyrics on a napkin over lunch. Backstage at Evita, he was a popular figure whereas Lloyd Webber was thought of as distant.

Evita, based on the life of Eva Peron, was their next collaboration and it proved a happier affair. The project was Rice's idea. His lyrics were literate yet contemporary while Lloyd Webber's score contained elements of jazz, choral music, rock and Latin American rhythms.

Amidst all this activity, Lloyd Webber found time for lower-key projects. For a bet, he wrote Variations for his brother Julian, the 'cellist. It proved so successful that it almost toppled ABBA from the top of the UK charts in 1978 and went on to provide theme music for the British arts programme The South Bank Show.

Bittersweet Memories

Cats (1981) marked the end of a collaborative era. Lloyd Webber set music to T.S. Eliot's poems in 'Old Possum's Book Of Practical Cats', but he approached Rice to provide words for the last-minute composition 'Memory'. Rice worked through the night, but his work was never used and his partnership with Lloyd Webber was at an end.

The composer moved into a different gear for the extravagant musical on roller-skates Starlight Express (1984), with book and lyrics by Richard Stilgoe. For Phantom of the Opera, the 25-year-old Charles Hart, winner of the Vivian Ellis Award (a prize for new musicals writers), was brought in to work on the lyrics (Richard Stilgoe is credited with 'additional lyrics'). Hart completed them in three months and went on to work with Lloyd Webber on Aspects Of Love (1989), co-writing the lyrics with Don Black. Black himself wrote the book and lyrics of Lloyd Webber's Sunset Boulevard (1993), together with Christopher Hampton.

Success after success has made Lloyd Webber into a British institution. With a knighthood, the purchase of Canaletto's The Old Horse Guard for over £10 million and the purchase of the Palace and New London theatres, he has become established as the sort of power-broker who might well appear in one of his own productions.

His most recent exercise is as producer for the musical with the Bollywood flavour - Bombay Dreams (2002) - with music by A.R. Rahman, Book by Meera Sayel and Lyrics by Don Black


A much younger Andrew