Thursday, March 22, 2012

10 FAVORITES (54): Happy Birthday, Lord Lloyd Webber!

What does the Bible, Argentina, a Hollywood studio, a Parisian Opera House and the London back alleys all have in common?  They each serve as the settings for some of the musicals of Andrew Lloyd Webber.  Lord Lloyd Webber is celebrating his 64th birthday today (coincidentally he shares his birthday with another Broadway musical legend, Stephen Sondheim, who turns 82 today!).  For over 40 years, Lloyd Webber's musicals have thrilled audiences, broken box-office records and reshaped the musical theatre landscape.  His legend has been fully cemented especially with two new revivals of his earliest hits (Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita) opening on Broadway within the next month and the most financially successful musical of all-time now celebrating its 26th year on the London stage (Phantom's 25th anniversary on Broadway will occur in January of next year!).  His sumptuous and epic musical scores have won Tonys, Grammys and even an Oscar.  But what are the songs of his that this "Broadway Baby" will treasure most.  So, in honor of Lord Lloyd Webber's birthday, this week's 10 FAVORITES are devoted to the best songs the man composed for some of the world's most famous musicals.


SONG #10
An Unexpected Song
from Song and Dance or Tell Me On a Sunday
Original Lyrics by Don Black
Additional Lyrics by Richard Maltby Jr.
Originally written for the one-act musical Tell Me On a Sunday, when that show was combined with a balletic second act to create the 1986 Broadway hit Song and Dance (featuring a stellar Tony-winning performance from Bernadette Peters).  The stand-out song from the show was this charming number that has since become a popular audition song for almost every young female aspiring to stage greatness.  But of course, all these young women take their cues from the phenomenal Ms. Peters (see below!).

All I Ask of You
from The Phantom of the Opera
Lyrics by Charles Hart
Additional Lyrics by Richard Stilgoe
Arguably one of Lloyd Webber's most romantic songs ever written, its sweeping melody moves the audiences to tears towards the end of the first act of the gothic musical romance.  The song has become a standard at most weddings (especially ones where the brides have dragged their fiancee to a performance of Phantom!).

Love Changes Everything
from Aspects of Love
Lyrics by Don Black & Charles Hart
Not many shows open with a powerhouse ballad, but in Aspects of Love Lloyd Webber took a chance.  While the show was not his most successful critically (not many of his shows are exactly beloved by the critics), this song was a popular hit and launched leading man Michael Ball into super stardom in the United Kingdom.

Buenos Aires
from Evita
Lyrics by Tim Rice
What I've always loved about this song is the mix of rock rhythms and latin-style dance music combined with the forceful attitude of the character of young Eva Peron.  She stands there when she enters the Argentinian metropolis and (while enthralled by what she sees) she is not intimidated to tell the world what to expect from her.  It doesn't hurt that the original Broadway production had a powerhouse performance from the amazing Patti LuPone (below!).

from Cats
Lyrics by Trevor Nunn (adapted from T. S. Eliot)
Every time I've talked with people about this musical, they always ask me "Why the hell did a show about kitty cats run so long on Broadway!?!"  There are lots of reasons why the show was so popular (so many to mention here really!).  One of those reasons though was this extremely popular power ballad that became the show's signature tune.  Who knew that kitties could have powerful emotions!?!

I Don't Know How To Love Him
from Jesus Christ Superstar
Lyrics by Tim Rice
Back in 1970, this was one of Andrew Lloyd Webber's first #1 hits.  Inspired by legendary rock albums by The Who and Led Zeppelin, Lloyd Webber and writing partner Tim Rice released Jesus Christ Superstar as a concept album hoping it would be successful enough to warrant a musical production.  Thanks to hit singles like this one (not to mention the title number!), the show opened on Broadway, opened in London  and had a feature film version all within a matter of 3 years.

As If We Never Said Goodbye
from Sunset Boulevard
Lyrics by Don Black
Additional Lyrics by Christopher Hampton
While Sunset Boulevard is not among Lloyd Webber's shining successes (the multi-million dollar original London and Broadway productions lost most of their original investments), this emotionally charged second-act "aria" gives the actress playing Norma Desmond a chance for a true tour-de-force performance.  The sweeping melody and the lyrical poetry make for brilliant speech by someone who has felt so alone, but now has a chance at returning to her former glory.  Just watch Glenn Close below in her Tony-winning triumph.

The Phantom of the Opera
from The Phantom of the Opera
Lyrics by Charles Hart
Additional Lyrics by Richard Stilgoe
When it comes to Broadway title tunes, this rock-influenced powerhouse ranks among the best (right up there with Oklahoma!, Hello, Dolly! and The Sound of Music).  There are several things I love about this number. One of the things is the minute I hear that drum-beat intro, I'm immediately taken back to the first time I saw this show and this musical sequence.  When the Phantom takes Christine to his underground lair, the stage production goes all out in wowing audiences with rising candelabras, swirling mists and a moving boat.  Combine all that with the thrilling final seconds of the song when Christine reaches high E's in her vocalizing, it makes for a memorable musical number.

Don't Cry For Me Argentina
from Evita
Lyrics by Tim Rice
This song doesn't really need a lot of explanation.  It is a powerful and very emotional song that epitomizes the love Eva Peron had for her people (more importantly the power they could give her!).  The melody is moving and Tim Rice's lyrics are the perfect mix of poetry and politics.  Get a great performer like Patti LuPone or original London star Elaine Paige (below) to sing it and you've got a Grammy-winning hit.

The Music of the Night
from The Phantom of the Opera
Lyrics by Charles Hart
Additional Lyrics by Richard Stilgoe
This goes on my list as one of my favorite Broadway songs of All-Time.  It goes up there with songs by the likes of Rodgers and Hammerstein, George Gershwin and Irving Berlin.  When I first saw Phantom of the Opera almost 20 years ago, I remember this song just moving me to tears (which was a complete turnaround as I had just been wowed by the phenomenal staging of the title number!).  With this song you hear the Phantom's lonliness and his heartbreak, but you also hear the beauty and the passion with which he floods his soul with his art and his music.  It is a hauntingly beautiful song that celebrates the thing that brings us all together: music.

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