Andrew Lloyd Webber Essay - Webber, Andrew Lloyd

Webber, Andrew Lloyd

Introduction

Andrew Lloyd Webber 1948– Tim Rice 1944–

Webber (not shown)—British composer, author, and producer.

Rice (pictured at right)—British lyricist, author, and producer.

The works of Webber and Rice are musical interpretations of biblical and historical figures and events. They are studies of charismatic young men and women who command great power. Webber's music is a pastiche of such twentieth-century popular styles as vaudeville, rock, calypso, country, and soul, although his works are often structured in classical and operatic forms. Rice's lyrics are important for their authentic presentation of the team's subjects in contemporary language. Webber and Rice began writing pop songs together in 1966, but had little success until their single "Jesus Christ Superstar" became a hit and convinced them to build an entire work around it.

With Jesus Christ Superstar Webber and Rice present the story of Christ's last days on earth in a non-traditional form, the rock opera. The purpose of the drama is to show the reaction to Jesus during His own lifetime. The work was immediately controversial; it is considered radical because it ends with Christ's crucifixion rather than with His resurrection. Another controversy generated by Superstar is the composer's sympathetic portrayal of Judas, through whose eyes the story is told; most critics, however, believe this point of view to be truly innovative. The film version of Superstar is considered as blasphemous as the play. However, many church officials acknowledged it as a favorable means of relating the Bible to young people in a form and language which appeals to them.

Prior to Superstar Webber and Rice collaborated on a shorter piece, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, which was first written as a private production for a boys's school and is also based on a biblical story. Some reviewers see it as superficial, but many think it more charming and less pretentious than Superstar. With Evita, Webber and Rice created a genuine opera about the career of Eva Perón, an opportunist who became the wife of Argentine dictator Juan Perón in the 1950s. Evita shares Superstar's theme of the effects of mass popularity and is told by radical leader Ché Guevara. However, it is generally considered inferior to its predecessor, and many critics have felt it is saved only by its brilliant staging.

Rice's lyrics have been criticized for their banality, and both authors have been attacked for their uncertain handling of their subject. Audiences, however, have been receptive to Evita, just as they have to all of Webber and Rice's works. According to John Coldstream, their success is "on a scale matched in this generation by Lennon and McCartney."

Richard Williams

Just as Handel composed "Messiah" and Bach wrote his "St Matthew Passion," so Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice have produced "Jesus Christ—Superstar."

An outrageous statement, some will say. How dare they? But the point is that Handel, Bach, Lloyd Webber, and Rice have all created music which tells the same story in the language of their day….

I guess a lot of people will laugh at it. Had it been called "Buddah—Superstar," or "Meher Baba—Freak's Guru," the same people would have taken it very seriously indeed.

Having listened to the whole thing several times now, I'm sure that the pair have undertaken the venture in an honest way, and have come up with a considerable achievement, against all the odds….

It's not, of course, without its faults, as it's virtually impossible to tell this story in its original context with all the paraphernalia of rock without having the odd hang-up somewhere. Person-ally, I feel that the odd word or phrase is slightly out of tone with the music….

I don't want anybody to get the impression that "Jesus Christ—Superstar" is to be compared in terms of aesthetic success to Handel and Bach. Even if it were, it would take decades to realise it. What I do think is that it's an honest attempt at a very hard job, and the amount of artistic success which is already definitely apparent is surprising and pleasing. The work demands more serious listening than it'll probably get.

Richard Williams, "Thou Shalt Not Knock 'Jesus Christ—Superstar'," in Melody Maker (© IPC Business Press Ltd.), October 10, 1970, p. 8.

William Bender

Superstar builds to considerable impact and evocativeness, in part because it manages to wear its underlying seriousness lightly. What Rice and Webber have created is a modern-day passion play that may enrage the devout but ought to intrigue and perhaps inspire the agnostic young….

Together they have fashioned a clever, youthful blend of skepticism and romantic questioning….

Judas has rarely been treated so sympathetically as he is by Webber and Rice. According to the Judas of Superstar, his friend Jesus is a charismatic mortal—much like an adored rock singer or the leader of a radical movement—who has begun to believe in his own press clippings…. The Crucifixion is seen as the result of bungling self-indulgence, and Jesus' faith in his divinity, and hope of Resurrection, as delusions.

To a large extent, Webber and Rice share Judas' doubts…. Shorn of the Resurrection, of course, the Passion and what preceded it are something less than "the greatest story ever told." Perhaps that is why Webber and Rice … have not worked too hard in Superstar to get the Christianity out of Christ. Despite Judas, both libretto and music are provocatively ambiguous about Christ's divinity….

What Webber and Rice seem certain of is that Christ was a profoundly humanitarian radical thinker, not unlike Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy….

Whatever the reaction to Superstar may be, Webber and Rice have fused words and music into such a convincing narrative style that rock may never be quite the same again….

Superstar occupies the same assimilative position in the pop world that Ginastera's Don Rodrigo does in serious opera. Webber and Rice do not outdo the Beatles or the Rolling Stones or the Edwin Hawkins Singers, Prokofiev, Orff, Stravinsky or any other musical influence found in their work. But they have welded these borrowings into a considerable work that is their own. [The Who's] Tommy … was the first, flawed suggestion that rock could deal with a major subject on a broad symphonic or operatic scale. Superstar offers the first real proof.

William Bender, "Rock Passion," in Time (reprinted by permission from Time, The Weekly Newsmagazine; copyright Time Inc. 1970), Vol. 96, No. 19, November 9, 1970, p. 47.

Jonathan Cott

Messrs. Rice and Webber are talented and clever young Englishmen who command smooth lyrical and dramatic gifts….

But primarily the tone the music and words [of Jesus Christ Superstar creates] is one of forced hipness and sentimentality, that of an egregiously over-sweet rock-coated Broadway musical. There are the dramatic declamatory descending modulations when Jesus sings of understanding what power really is about, a steal from Tommy's "How can he be saved / From the eternal grave."

When Jesus rails at the polluters of the temple, his wailing ways sound more like Jimi Hendrix calling on his foxy lady than someone expressing a fine sense of moral outrage. And this is followed by a wispy, reflective passage that would have been more appropriate as a moment of the adolescent-dumb gloom Johnny Mathis might have felt after losing his latest passion.

Then there are the lyrics [such as Mary Magdalene's] sweet half-groupie, half-teenaged ballad for Jesus, the man she doesn't know how to love. And all the while Italian night club imitation rock music adjoining strings and horns create an embarrassing but melodious scene….

[The opera] does nothing to enrich, expand, uncover, or commit itself to any personal vision, in the sense that [Pier Paolo] Pasolini and [Roberto] Rossellini have transformed the Gospels in their films. Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers or Ray Davies [of The Kinks] would have had more to say or see about Jesus.

Jonathan Cott, "Jesus Christ Sings an Aria," in Rolling Stone (by Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc. © 1970; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Issue 72, December 2, 1970, p. 10.

Nick Tosches

All in all, [Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat] covers a good nine chapters of the Book of Genesis and proffers a highly moving—much of which, I must admit, is due to the groovy score the operetta sports—testimony of one man's unswerving fidelity to God….

Although at times the music does seem a bit irreverent to what's being recounted, the LP's "now sound" is often quite effective….

Nick Tosches, "Records: 'Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat'," in Rolling Stone (by Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc. © 1971; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Issue 85, June 24, 1971, p. 43.

Clifford Edwards

[In Superstar the] Christ of faith gives way to the Jesus of history. Rice and Webber have acknowledged modern scholarship's discovery that the New Testament picture of Jesus is colored throughout with propagandistic interpretation more intent on convincing the reader that Jesus is the divine God-man than in giving an historically accurate picture of the flesh-and-blood man of Galilee. (p. 218)

Rice and Webber attempt to dramatize the life-style of the historical Jesus in the midst of the life-styles and forces at work around him.

Is there any value in bypassing ecclesiastical propaganda to seek out this life-style? To an emerging culture suspicious of the establishment's...

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Douglas Watt

["Jesus Christ Superstar"] is so stunningly effective a theatrical experience that I am still finding it difficult to compose my thoughts about it. It is, in short, a triumph….

["Jesus Christ Superstar"] considers the seven last days of Christ in contemporary pop terms and, it must be added, with complete reverence.

Andrew Lloyd Webber's score is vibrant, richly varied and always dramatically right and … much the same things can be said for Tim Rice's lyrics….

The story in itself is, of course, almost unbearably moving, but the great accomplishment of Webber and Rice has been to make it so strikingly immediate.

Douglas...

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Clive Barnes

Nothing could convince me that any show that has sold two-and-one-half million copies of its album before the opening night is anything like all bad. But I must also confess to experiencing some disappointment [with] "Jesus Christ Superstar."…

It all rather resembled one's first sight of the Empire State Building. Not at all uninteresting, but somewhat unsurprising and of minimal artistic value….

Mr. Rice's intention was clearly to place Christ's betrayal and death into a vernacular more immediate perhaps to our times. His record sales would presumably indicate his success in this aim, but he does not have a very happy ear for the English language. There is a certain air of...

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Martin Gottfried

"Jesus Christ Superstar" is an enormously successful record album, called a "rock opera" in one of pop music's pathetic and pointless efforts to gain respectability by imitating orthodox forms. It is also an awful album, overproduced and overorchestrated in vain compensation for underinspiration and a complete lack of the qualities that make for rock music—vitality, rhythm, state of mind, musicality…. [It] required no imagination to envision as a commercially viable stage production….

[It] is, at its worst, a production that leaves you with a so-what feeling. For all its physical beauty, extravagance, enormity of orchestration and complexity of audio production, it provides no feeling—no...

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Malcolm Boyd

Can Jesus survive "Jesus Christ Superstar"? Sometimes it is "Love Story" in Jerusalem. Other times it is only "The Greening of the Box Office."… But is it a serious work of art? And how does it deal with the Passion of Christ?…

In a myriad of details gone wrong, the show bears little resemblance to the New Testament. Yet, what is most important, Jesus' mission got misplaced somewhere from drawing board to Star Chamber.

Is this the Jesus of a significant counter-culture? Not at all. For we see him reject the sick and distressed victims of society who come to him for help. We see a restless and tired "star" Jesus arrogantly send Judas away to do the work of betrayal. Fatigue and...

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Walter Kerr

Lyricist Tim Rice has found for ["Jesus Christ Superstar"] a personal, and I think persuasive, tone of voice. The tone of voice is not merely mod or pop or jauntily idiomatic in an opportunistic way. It sheathes an attitude. It speaks, over and over again, of the inadequate, though forgivable, responses ordinary men always do make when confronted by mystery….

[Rice's] are blunt, rude, pointedly unlyrical lyrics, not meant to coat any period with a little literary flavoring but to catch hold of thought processes—venal, obtuse, human. Delivered in the jargon we more or less live by, they become woefully and ironically recognizable.

Andrew Lloyd Webber's score functions well, too,...

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Jack Kroll

It is a bit silly for religionists to argue over the theological points in the libretto of "Superstar." Rice has assembled his simple and familiar narrative line from all the Gospels, moving from the feast at Bethany through the entry into Jerusalem, the Last Supper, the agony in Gethsemane, Judas's betrayal, the Crucifixion. His choosing to pivot the "plot" around the question of Jesus' divinity is a natural decision as a child of his time. It is a perspective, even if a naive one, and the important thing is that he lets the drama move in a simple crescendo toward the white heat of that self-dissolving question. The lyrics, like those of most opera librettos (and "Superstar" formally is the most traditional kind of...

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Dan Morgenstern

Can a work so monstrously successful [as Jesus Christ Superstar] be all bad? The answer, sadly, is yes. The Gospel according to Tim, Tom [director Tom O'Horgan] and Andy is a far cry from Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The music is banal, the lyrics infantile, the staging monumentally vulgar, the theological conception of the Passion of Christ a travesty. It is its success—and only that—which forces one to give it serious consideration. (p. 1)

It is difficult to determine what the intentions of Messrs. Webber and Rice really were.

Is Superstar a cynical attempt to cash in on the current "counterculture" trend toward religiosity? Is it a gigantic put-on, and will the...

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Clive Barnes

[The] rock legend of Joseph, fresher and brighter than "Superstar," is an understandable knockout in ["Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat."] It is totally unpretentious and, perhaps by the same token, totally charming.

Clive Barnes, "Stage: A New Troupe Performs at Edinburgh Fete," in The New York Times (© 1972 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), September 5, 1972, p. 45.

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James R. Huffman

With Jesus Christ Superstar, the segment most often pincered for separate analysis is the younger generation—or sliced even thinner for microscopy, and for sensational copy, the counterculture and the Jesus Movements. Yet these ripples in American society are only peripherally related to the popularity of Superstar…. (p. 262)

The very first fact that the critic must deal with—rationally, not in righteous indignation—is the tremendous popularity of Jesus Christ Superstar…. Like the Beatles, though without apology, Superstar is probably more popular than Christ himself. (p. 263)

[The] immediate question is popular with whom? Certainly not with...

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Roy Hollingworth

I thought that "Superstar," and now "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat," were quite surely more decadent than Alice Cooper.

It's quite okay, and very lovable to have jolly portrayals of God—to all intents and purposes styled upon Santa Claus. It's a best-seller to have rock 'n' roll angels, tidy lyrics, neon tablets, and satire based upon The Bible.

But I sat there, and thought, "Herewith really makes a beginning of the end." Surely, I was laughing, for "Joseph" has incredibly funny moments. But … like, ya know, if yer a thinker, then you start to think about God in Neon. And then you start to think about dear George Orwell, and then "1984," and before you know...

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Variety

["Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat"] continues to impress with its charm, wit and inventive staging. It not only popularizes a portion of the Old Testament, but on another level operates as show business parody, kidding such personalities as Gene Autry and Elvis Presley. It's no knockout, but certainly a pleasing and buoyant entertainment….

But because of its short length, "Joseph" appears doomed to be the victim of debilitating grafts. In this instance, the evening's first half yields an all-new and supposedly related work called "Jacob's Journey," which is intended to foreshadow the "Dreamcoat" saga. It's not of the same quality, being essentially a mini-musical with vaude...

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Loraine Alterman

[I came to the film version of "Jesus Christ Superstar"] with virgin eyes and ears both of which were glazed after one hour and forty minutes of almost unmitigated boredom. At the risk of being sacrilegious, I couldn't wait until they nailed Jesus….

[There's] the scene where Jesus is tossing the moneychangers out of the temple which is filled with postcard stands and hookers. In fact, in charging through the temple, Jesus breaks up a lot of mirrors and one can only conclude the curse of seven years bad luck was the reason Jesus died. The shallowness of most of the portrayals and simple-mindedness of a lot of the lyrics hardly make you feel there's any other reason. There is just nothing truly...

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James M. Wall

Guided by a longtime prejudice against Broadway musicals and reinforced by a decade dedicated to fighting bathrobe-and-beard Bible films, I attended a preview screening, fully prepared to attack Superstar with all the snide sophistication I could muster. To my absolute amazement, I found the film to be compelling, moving and visually stunning. It is superb cinema, stimulating theology, and in no way anti-Semitic.

Superstar … accomplishes something I have never before seen in a biblical film: it portrays Jesus in a first century setting with a 20th century sensitivity…. [My] reaction, both cinematic and theological, is that Superstar is a fitting marriage of message and...

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Jon Landau

Jesus Christ Superstar [the film] is intellectually as vacuous as the Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber rock opera it so faithfully follows,… and religiously as authentic as Sunday morning services at the White House….

[Almost everything in the film is played] for either laughs, irony or earnestness—not a shot in the film is corrupted by genuine emotion or sentiment. Jesus' character is so poorly drawn that we never understand either the appeal that he generates or the hostility he provokes….

The sheer triviality of this film is ultimately unsettling. Its makers failed to take the subject seriously, refused to honor their story, and never committed themselves to the...

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William S. Pechter

[It's] almost impossible to suggest the imaginative impoverishment, the sheer stupefying banality, of … [the] version of the last days of Christ [in the movie Jesus Christ Superstar]…. In another respect, however, I underestimated the work; I had expected the alleged anti-Semitism of the film to be no more than the random fallout of its pandering to the anti-establishment sentiments of its audience, to be, in that sense, unintentional. But though the villainy of the Jews "works," all right, so, too, would the villainy of the Romans, who, if anything, could have been a good deal more easily made standins for cops or American imperialists than can the Jewish priesthood be equated with any of the usual...

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John Simon

[The movie version of Jesus Christ Superstar is] in many ways odious and in all ways absurd….

[The] entire story is presented without any original point of view, the only slightly significant departure being Christ's virtually provoking and coercing Judas into betraying him so as to fulfill the grand design. But I doubt if, at this late date, that is likely to give rise to a new heresy or serious schism.

No, the offense is of a different order. It is, first, in the text, which is faithfully that of Tim Rice for the "rock opera," and translates the sublime prose of the gospels into witless doggerel. "Listen, Jesus, I don't like what I see / All I ask is that you listen to...

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Clive Barnes

Being wrong is never funny. When I saw "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" in London a couple of years or so ago [see excerpt above], I thought it was pretty good. Modestly good. Not incredible, but viable….

In many ways it is better than "Jesus Christ, Superstar." At least it is not quite so pretentious. But those many ways are not enough. In London it seemed acceptable. In Brooklyn, with, I think, a slightly jazzed-up staging, it seems a loud and pushy bore….

Why are so many modern—or so-distant modern—musicals based on biblical themes? This "Joseph" makes so many of its points—those such as it makes—with a semi-mocking attitude to its subject. It takes...

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Eric Salzman

Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice of, first, the pop-rock musical Jesus Christ, Superstar and, now, Evita are a couple of pop-art geniuses; what they lack is talent….

[Eva Peron's life] is certainly the stuff of opera, and opera is just what our heroes have propsed: great sumptuous orchestrations played by the London Philharmonic, funny off-key recitatives, Menotti-modern-opera scenes, choral madrigals, frenzied chants, and Latin lamentations, as well as heavy-beat rock music, much of it with a greasy sort of Latin overlay.

But is all this panoply mere show without substance? So it seems; one looks in vain for content. In the case of...

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Charles Perry

Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber have chosen Eva Perón … as heroine of [Evita,] their followup to Jesus Christ Superstar, and it must be confessed that there is a certain logic to the choice. The one memorable song from Jesus Christ Superstar, "I Don't Know How to Love Him," belonged not to the hero but to the blameless whore Mary Magdalene. Here the blameless whore is the centerpiece and once again has the song, "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina."

Outside of that bit of cleaning up, the rest is Superstar recycled: mobs of foolish actors, prissy, narrow-minded aristocrats, cartoonish Powers That Be, a cynical narrator who gives the lowdown on the celebrity hero. Once again...

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Martin Gottfried

[The likes of Evita] have never been seen before; while it uses techniques developed in such Broadway shows as Cabaret and Follies, it rises to still higher theatrical purpose….

Like their previous Jesus Christ Superstar, Rice and Webber's Evita was initially written for a record album and termed a "rock opera." It is hardly biographical in the usual sense. It is a creature utterly of the stage. Rice's lyrics—his "libretto"—merely provided an excuse for [director Harold] Prince's elevation of the entire project to a new dimension…. [Webber's music] has been fleshed out and deepened to become a new kind of theater music, and crashing dissonances underlining...

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Clive Barnes

Evita is a stunning, exhilarating theatrical experience, especially if you don't think about it too much….

[It is] a virtually faultless piece of Broadway fantasy that has shadow exultantly victorious over substance, and form virtually laughing at content.

First let me stress that this pop-opera … is wonderfully entertaining in everything but the aftertaste of its pretensions. But don't cry for [Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice] anyone—this deserves to be a sizeable hit….

This is a more vital attempt at pop-opera than was the author's previous Jesus Christ Superstar. Rice has constructed his libretto with coherence and his deliberately...

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Walter Kerr

There's an eerily prophetic line close to the very opening of "Evita," the Tim Rice-Andrew Lloyd Webber musical that chooses to sing about the brief, bizarre life of Eva Perón and her joint rule of Argentina with her dictator-husband, Juan. The evening opens with the announcement of her death at 33….

The lady's coffin is not yet closed, though. That will be done by Che himself, slapping the great lid shut and sending clouds of dust flying into the bleak, steelwork sky. He then sings the couplet that is going to prove both accurate and, to the entertainment, damaging: "As soon as the smoke from the funeral clears / We're all gonna see she did nothing for years."

That is precisely...

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Howard Kissel

Like "Jesus Christ Superstar," Tim Rice and Andrew LloydWebber's "Evita" … is history seen as a form of show business. Since Eva Peron was more directly related to show biz than Jesus, one would expect the Rice-Lloyd-Webber material to be more pointed than their earlier show. Alas, it is only more banal.

Rice's lyrics have the naive outrage of Sixties radical kids…. Occasionally Rice achieves an old-fashioned musical comedy cleverness…. More often they merely convey rhetoric with no sense of style, euphony or grace.

Lloyd-Webber's music frequently sounds like mis-hummed fragments of familiar tunes…. Most of the music is characterless, often singsong—perhaps it was kept...

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Jack Kroll

Last year, at the World Cup soccer matches in Buenos Aires, the huge crowd roared, "We want the thieves back! We want the thieves!" Why do the people of a relatively advanced, sophisticated country yearn for the neo-Fascist paternalism and fake messianism of an Eva Perón? That is the true horror of her story, and "Evita" doesn't confront it. Why isn't there at least one song given to the descamisados, in which we learn about their attitude toward their idol? Even Che Guevara could have been used to better effect. Late in his career he made initiatives toward the exiled Perón (as did Fidel Castro himself); there's an opportunity for a number in which the "true revolutionary" expresses his own ambivalence toward the...

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