Andrew Lloyd Webber Essay - Critical Essays


With its oversize format, its stunning color on black title pages, and its seventy pages of photographs, ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER: HIS LIFE AND WORKS looks like another coffee-table book. What distinguishes it is the seriousness of its text. Along with plot summaries of Lloyd Webber’s phenomenally successful musicals, overviews of their critical reception, and a minimum of theatrical gossip, Walsh presents a detailed study of Lloyd Webber’s practice as a composer. Although readers will encounter repeated doses of terminology (key signatures, chromatic scales, bitonal clashes), they will also receive a quick course in music history, ranging from Puccini and Prokofiev, through Britten and Elgar, to Sondheim, Glass, and John Adams.

Walsh analyses each of Lloyd Webber’s works, judging EVITA, THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, and ASPECTS OF LOVE, together with his REQUIEM, as musically his most substantial and enduring achievements. Successors to, yet different from, American book musicals of the 1940’s and 1950’s or concept musicals of the 1960’s and 1970’s, such international hits as JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR and CATS are characterized by elaborate scenic designs and stories told almost entirely through music.

Discussion of the works takes precedence over the life; much about the private Lloyd Webber remains hidden and elusive. Walsh does provide illuminating discussions of the genesis of Lloyd Webber’s compositions, as well as capsule biographies of such figures as Lloyd Webber’s father Bill, himself a minor composer, and Tim Rice, his first lyricist partner, later of CHESS fame.

Walsh’s own style is occasionally jaunty but mostly flat. And, given his agenda of securing Lloyd Webber’s reputation as a major composer despite the barbs of theater reviewers totally ignorant about music, Walsh’s last chapter seems disconcertingly lame and inconclusive.