Now that “Cats” is back, Andrew Lloyd Webber has three different musicals running simultaneously on Broadway (in addition to “The Phantom of the Opera” and “School of Rock”), a feat he achieved multiple times before as various shows came and went while “Phantom” and “Cats” continued to run.
His body of work is extensive and contains more flops than you would imagine, especially over the past 25 years. Below is a quick summary of his best-known musicals.
‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat’
Originally conceived in 1968 as a piece for school children, Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice turned a familiar chapter from the Book of Genesis into an irresistibly catchy pop musical that is constantly produced by amateur groups. It played Broadway in 1982 and 1993. (Full disclosure: The 1990s revival was the first Broadway show I saw as a child. I proceeded to listen to the cast album every day for a year.)
‘Jesus Christ Superstar’
Lloyd Webber and Rice once again looked to the Bible for inspiration for what turned out to be their their breakout work: an exciting and provocative rock opera depicting the final days in the life of Jesus, often from the point of view of Judas. It has played Broadway three times (1971, 2000, 2012), but it has never been successful there. An arena tour was cancelled two years due to poor ticket sales. A new production just opened in London to strong reviews, creating buzz about a possible transfer.
In their last musical together, Lloyd Webber and Rice examined the volatile rise of Argentinean first lady Evita Peron and the crowds that loved or hated her. The original 1979 production made stars out of Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin. A 2012 revival with Ricky Martin and Argentinian actress Elena Roger was far less successful. Even so, it is a smart, sweeping, politically charged work that has a lot of relevance to the current election cycle.
Lloyd Webber set T.S.Eliot’s fanciful light verse describing various cats to music and out sprang one of the most commercially successful musicals of all time. Its eclectic score is best known for the pop ballad “Memory.” The new Broadway revival is based on Trevor Nunn’s original production, which ran from 1982 through 2000.
‘The Phantom of the Opera’
“Cats” may have taken a 16-year hiatus, but “Phantom” has been running continuously at the Majestic Theatre since 1988, making it the longest-running show in Broadway history. Like “Cats,” it is known for both its score and visual effects, including the plummeting chandelier. Outside of New York, a reconceived production is now touring the country.
This big-scale 1994 adaptation of the 1950 Billy Wilder film made headlines when Glenn Close replaced Patti LuPone as silent movie star Norma Desmond before the show made it to Broadway. It ran 2 1⁄2 years but fell short of expectations. It will be revived sooner or later. Close recently reprised the part in London.
‘School of Rock’
Nearly three decades since his last new hit on Broadway, Lloyd Webber recently premiered this family-friendly adaptation of the Jack Black film about kids learning to rock out. It is playing at the Winter Garden Theatre (the original home of “Cats”).