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Tuesday, 21 August, 2001, 13:02 GMT 14:02 UK
Lloyd Webber's musical journey
Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber
The hit musical Cats was based on the poems of TS Eliot
Andrew Lloyd Webber - who became Lord Lloyd-Webber in 1997 - has been one of the most important figures in UK musical theatre of the second half of the 20th Century.

He has broken records for the longest runs and the biggest audiences in his field, and written million-selling singles and albums.

And his musicals have kept many of London's stages working during theatre's periodical depressions, employing huge numbers of musicians, actors and technical crew.

Tim Rice
Tim Rice was Lloyd Webber's first collaborator
Yet Lord Lloyd-Webber has never had the support of many of the UK's theatre and music critics, who have often enjoyed criticising his work.

Scholarship

Andrew Lloyd Webber was born in 1948 and made music from a young age, composing music for the school plays at Westminster.

He won a scholarship in 1964 to transfer to Oxford University, where he met lyricist Tim Rice - and dropped out of Oxford to pursue a musical career with him.

Their first musical, The Likes of Us, was a failure, but soon afterwards the team came up with the idea for Joseph And The Technicolour Dreamcoat, a musical based on the Biblical tale.

Its first performance in 1968 marked the start of a hugely successful backstage partnership between Rice and Lloyd Webber.

1970's Jesus Christ Superstar, like Joseph, married a religious theme with rock and pop music and fell in with the zeitgeist of the time.

Reunion

Lloyd Webber teamed up with dramatist Alan Ayckbourn in 1975 for a musical based on PG Wodehouse's character Jeeves, but the show was not a success.

Elaine Page in Evita
Evita starred Elaine Page
His reunion with Rice produced the hugely successful Evita, based on the story of Eva Peron, wife of Argentinian leader Juan Peron and starring Elaine Page. It was later made into a hit film starring Madonna.

There followed a period in which Lloyd Webber seemed to have the Midas touch.

Cats (1981), Starlight Express (1984) and Phantom Of The Opera (1986) were all hugely popular and went onto have extended runs - all, in fact, are currently still running in London's West End.

Phantom also propelled singer and dancer Sarah Brightman to stardom, as well as reminding the world of the huge talents of Michael Crawford.

Richard Stilgoe
Richard Stilgoe worked on many later musicals
Lloyd Webber consolidated his business empire, creating the Really Useful Group which manages, produces and publishes his work - as well as developing and producing the works of other writers.

The Really Useful Group is also co-owner of Really Useful Theatres which is London's largest proprietor of West End theatres, including the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, the London Palladium and the Palace.

Though his runaway success made him financially secure, his touch for a while has seemed less certain.

Aspects of Love, which opened in 1989 closed in 1992, 1993's Sunset Boulevard closed after four years despite a re-launch and 1997's Whistle Down the Wind also closed after less than three years.

Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber
Webber: undaunted by musical criticism
But Lloyd Webber has always been undaunted by setbacks - and dismissive of the disdain of newspaper critics, such as the Observer's Philip Henscher, who recently described his music as "Puccini and water".

He is working on a new musical which aims to bring the pizzazz of Bollywood to the London stage, collaborating with top Bollywood music composer, AR Rehman, as well as film director Shekhar Kapur.

And if all he had written was the Phantom Of The Opera - he collaborated on the adaptation with lyricists Richard Stilgoe and Charles Hart - he would still be remembered as one of the titans of the stage musical.

Phantom has played in 18 countries, in 96 cities around the world, to over 58 million people - and earned more than 1.3bn in the process.

Which is an achievement his detractors would have difficulty matching.

See also:

27 Sep 00 | Entertainment
Soccer musical has crowd on its feet
19 Jul 01 | Arts
West End musical chairs
11 Jul 01 | Showbiz
Full-time called on Beautiful Game
15 Feb 01 | Entertainment
Critics honour Beautiful Game
09 May 01 | Arts
Cats celebrates 20th year
07 Mar 00 | South Asia
Lloyd Webber's Bollywood dream
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