The best musicals by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Andrew Lloyd Webber is one of the UK's biggest musical exports, having written 21 musicals throughout his illustrious career. Here, we pick out some of his greatest works for the stage – many of which have also been adapted for screen
Jesus Christ Superstar (1972)
What's the Buzz? Well, let's kick off with one of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's first major success stories: Jesus Christ Superstar. Originally released as a concept album, the show received its Broadway debut as a rock opera in 1971, opening in London's West End the following year for a record breaking eight-year run. The show is based on Gospel stories about the life of Jesus Christ, ending with his crucifixion. Judas and Mary Magdalene play key roles in the musical, both singing some of the show's best-known songs: 'I Don't Know How to Love Him' (Mary) and 'Heaven on Their Minds' (Judas).
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s third staged outing with lyricist Tim Rice takes in the true story of Eva Duarte, the Argentinian actress who won the hearts of the working classes when she married the country’s aspiring president, Juan Perón. The rhythmic and colourful musical made a star out of its original lead, Elaine Paige, who appeared in the inaugural run alongside David Essex and Joss Ackland. Song highlights include ‘Oh What a Circus’, ‘High Flying, Adored’ and ‘Don’t Cry for Me Argentina’.
A newly orchestrated version of Evita appears on Andrew Lloyd Webber: Symphonic Suites.
Based on TS Eliot's 1939 poetry collection, Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, this musical remains the fourth-longest-running Broadway show (following The Phantom of the Opera, Chicago and The Lion King) and sixth-longest-running West End Show (following The Mousetrap, Les Misérables, The Phantom of the Opera, The Woman in Black and Blood Brothers). Lloyd Webber first presented Cats as a song cycle, before bringing producer Cameron Mackintosh on board, who decided to turn the songs into a complete musical. Because of the nature of Eliot's verse, there is no linear narrative structure: the musical instead relies on music and dance to carry the show.
You'll probably recognise the song 'Memory', sung by Grizabella. In a very 'meta' turn of events, the song is performed by the character of Summer (see video: 6:58) in the 2003 film School of Rock, which was subsequently adapted into a musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber himself.
The musical was adapted into a film in 2019, but was considered to be a flop, predominantly due to issues with CGI effects. Many leading film magazines and newspapers gave it one-star ratings.
The Phantom of the Opera (1986)
Perhaps Lloyd Webber’s most popular musical, The Phantom of the Opera played continuously at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London until its closure due to the pandemic – it reopened in July. Based on Gaston Leroux’s novel, it centres on a disfigured composer who terrorises the Paris Opera and falls in love with a beautiful young ingénue. Michael Crawford originated the title role alongside Lloyd Webber’s then wife Sarah Brightman. Its best known songs include ‘Music of the Night’, ‘All I Ask of You’ and ‘The Point of No Return’.
A newly orchestrated version of The Phantom of the Opera appears on Andrew Lloyd Webber: Symphonic Suites.
Sunset Boulevard (1993)
Based on director Billy Wilder’s 1950 film, Lloyd Webber takes us to Hollywood for the tale of the downfall of a once famous silent film actress desperate to make a comeback. With lyrics by Christopher Hampton and Don Black, the original cast included Patti LuPone as Norma Desmond, a role which would go on to be played by Elaine Paige, Petula Clark and – most famously – Glenn Close. Song highlights include ‘As If We Never Said Goodbye’ and ‘With One Look’.
A newly orchestrated version of Sunset Boulevard appears on Andrew Lloyd Webber: Symphonic Suites.
Andrew Lloyd Webber will be featured as our cover star in the October issue of BBC Music Magazine, in an exclusive interview.
Michael is the Reviews Editor of BBC Music Magazine. He was previously a freelance film music journalist and spent 15 years at St George's Bristol. Michael specialises in film and television music and was the Editor of MusicfromtheMovies.com. He has written for the BBC Proms, BBC Concert Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal Albert Hall, Hollywood in Vienna and Silva Screen Records.