Andrew Lloyd Webber's parents were musical, so it is no surprise that he and his brother Julian displayed musical talent at a young age and then followed naturally into careers in music. In Andrew's case, while still studying music at college in Oxford, he had already met up with Tim Rice and they were creating shows together. One of those early shows was "Joseph and his Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" which was performed in a few local theatres before its growing popularity with young and old led to more widespread success. Their next project together was still apparently bringing religious topics together with popular and rock music, "Jesus Christ Superstar". Perhaps fearing some controversy over its subject matter, this was initially released as a double album. But its success in the US led to a Broadway production and from there International success followed including London's West End. The musical was also released as a film version.
Their collaboration seemed to go from strength to strength, with "Evita" being their next big hit. This was based on the life of Eva Peron and the song "Don't Cry for me Argentina" resulted in chart placings and numerous cover versions. Lloyd Webber and Rice didn't always work together, and indeed one production "Jeeves" where Lloyd Webber worked with playwright Alan Ayckbourn was not particular successful. The musical "Cats" was largely based on verses from T. S. Elliot's "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats" with some additional lyrics by Richard Stilgoe. A mixture of songs and dance numbers with excellent makeup and characterisation, this has been enormously popular and has played in many countries for years. Again this musical gave rise to a hit song "Memory" sung originally by Elaine Paige. Along came "The Phantom of the Opera" in the 1980s again with Stilgoe contributing lyrics. This brought a new success to actor/singer Michael Crawford, and the female lead Sarah Brightman was married to Lloyd Webber for a time. By now the winning formula was obvious, and Andrew Lloyd Webber produced show after show including "Starlight Express", "Aspects of Love", "Sunset Boulevard" and "Whistle Down the Wind" to name only a few. Although the peak of his popularity had been reached with the earlier shows, later musicals were still very successful financially producing more hit songs and often making their singers into stars.
Although it is the musical format mixed with popular song which has brought Lloyd Webber widespread recognition, he has participated in other forms of music. In the 70s he composed traditional soundtrack scores for a few films such as "Gumshoe" and "The Odessa File". A few of Andrew's stage musicals have also been turned into films, including "Jesus Christ Superstar", "Evita" and now The Phantom of the Opera. For his cellist brother Julian Lloyd Webber he wrote "Variations", based upon Paganini's original theme for violin (for which many other composers have provided variations including Brahms and Rachmaninov). This piece also employed pop and rock music styles and was recorded by Julian on cello with Andrew on Synths, Gary Moore on guitar, Herbie Flowers on Bass, Phil Collins on Drums and a few others. Variation number 2 was later adapted to become the theme tune for the television arts programme "The South Bank Show". Honouring another member of his family, Andrew wrote "Requiem" in memory of his father who was a professor of music.
In recent years Andrew Lloyd Webber has had a very visible presence on British television. First he was the head judge for the reality show "How do you Solve a Problem Like Maria" to select the lead role for a production of "The Sound of Music". This was followed by "Any Dream Will Do!" in a similar format to select a singer to play Joseph in a revival of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat". Then in 2009, Lloyd Webber used the reality show format to select a singer to take Britain's entry into the Eurovision Song Contest. This UK selection contest was won by Jade Ewen who then went on to sing the song "It's My Time" (specially composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber with Diane Warren) in the Song Contest final held in Moscow. Though Britain did not win the contest, they came a respectable 5th (out of 42 participating countries) performing much better than in recent years. In a sense the composer has come full circle because he and Tim Rice wrote the song "Try It and See" for the Eurovision Song Contest back in 1967, although it was not selected as the UK entry, he recycled the music as "Herod's Song" in Jesus Christ Superstar!
Recently Lloyd Webber has been busy working on the sequel to his hit musical "Phantom of the Opera", and the new musical "Love Never Dies" has now opened in London. This story is set 10 years after the events in "Phantom" which took place in Paris. All the main characters come together again in New York's Coney Island and, needless to say, there are issues to be sorted, revelations to be revealed, and tragedy to unfold amid much emotional turbulance. Apart from a couple of brief references to the original "Phantom", the music for "Love Never Dies" is all new and sees Andrew Lloyd Webber on top form. Soundtrack albums have already been released in two versions:
For the Queen's Diamond Jubilee in June 2012, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Gary Barlow composed the song "Sing" which was sung and recorded by a large group of artists from across the Commonwealth countries, including the Military Wives Choir. Lloyd Webber is now recruiting for a new production of Jesus Christ Superstar with the TV show "Superstar" seeking to fill the lead role of Jesus, with the help of public voting.
Note that there are typically many different recordings of Lloyd Webber's musicals, original London cast, Broadway cast, film versions and special recordings. These links will point you in the right direction:
See Andrew Lloyd Webber's company The Really Useful Group. See also our review of the soundtrack to the new film version of The Phantom of the Opera. It is interesting to note that Andrew Lloyd-Webber is exactly 18 years younger than Stephen Sondheim, that other great writer of musicals for Broadway and the West End. Their shared birthday is 22nd March.