by Andrew Lloyd Webber; Harper (528 pages, $28.99)
is Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Auntie Vi — his Auntie Mame,
to all intents and purposes — who inspires the most
colorful language in Lloyd Webber’s new autobiography:
"clotted bollocks on stilts."
deep in "Unmasked" Lloyd Webber purloins the
phrase to apply it to anyone who dares to suggest London
was lacking in gourmet dining prior to the invasion of
the current crop of chefs and their sycophantic foodies.
It is a cause that does not live up to the expression,
but then Lloyd Webber’s life has been one of
privilege. You find your outrage where you can. And your
language. When Lloyd Webber is writing in his own voice,
you’re more likely to get a phrase like "Back in
Blighty we megabumped back to reality," which sums
up its man quite nicely.
"Back in Britain I proposed to Sarah which was a
stupid formality." Seriously?
man was born, we read, of a sterling musical pedigree
and, unlike his constrained and cautious
composer-father, figured out that his formidable ability
to compose both gorgeous romantic ballads and hooky
melodies easily could be transferred to popular culture.
His early work, originally titled "Joseph and the
Amazing (Technicolour) Dreamcoat," trickled out
from posh schools into the realm of Donny Osmond and
popular consciousness, which was no small achievement,
actually. And from there, Lloyd Webber’s early life
was charmed with more success: "Jesus Christ
Superstar," "Evita," "Starlight
Express" and "Phantom of the Opera," with
which this tome concludes.
verbosity got in the way," Lloyd Webber writes in
the final chapter, by way of explanation for his cutoff.
His final chapter, "Playout Music," allows
that the second half of his life was more challenging
and that a just and fair account thereof would require
him to reveal "toe-curling truths" about
"so-called" friends and colleagues. "I
really don’t relish the thought of raking over
them," he writes, in what feels like a genteel form
of threat, when it comes to Volume 2 — forthcoming, he
implies, only if there is sufficient interest.
there be? Hard to say.
has the feeling of a reluctant autobiography, more a
dutiful accounting under pressure to do so than an
inspired one that comes from the heart. It runs up
against Lloyd Webber’s genuine valuing of discretion,
despite his naughty little recounting of goings-on
between the creative team of "Cats" (himself
included) and the ensemble, behavior that hardly would
pass muster today. And its form often feels random: Some
people get their own chapter, but then the story behind
"Phantom," Lloyd Webber’s most successful
product, does not unmask all that much at all. Which is
true, really, of the whole book.
might you learn? Some stuff, for sure. We learn that a
very young ALW appeared on the cover of Nursery World
magazine. We learn of his love for — and expertise in
— architecture. We discover that he was bullied at his
boys’ school — some of us know how that feels —
until music proffered peer acceptance. We learn that
during the Paris riots, he was reading the reviews for
"Joseph." We hear tell of his real-estate
prowess. And we find out that Bette Midler almost made
her Broadway debut singing "I Don’t Know How to
Love Him" in "Jesus Christ Superstar."
interesting — as is Lloyd Webber’s accounting of how
the musicals "Jesus Christ Superstar" and
"Evita" were first conceived as LPs, meaning
that Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice had to navigate
not just the theater, but the music business. History
shows they did so with extraordinary aplomb. Similarly
intriguing for fans of his work will be the numerous
places in the autobiography where Lloyd Webber discusses
his repurposing of melodies, tunes originally written
for one thing but that only became famous when they
appeared elsewhere. Lloyd Webber has always been an
efficient recycler, and there is no shame there
are some mild grudges: Enraged by the treatment of
Caiaphas, et al., the Jewish Defense League, he writes,
effectively killed the movie version of "Jesus
Christ Superstar" in the United States, not that
Lloyd Webber much liked the film (he claims not to have
seen the film in 45 years). There are a few digs at
left-leaning artists and government-subsidized
institutions. But the book hardly is political, and
there is much sincere admiration. Theater director
Trevor Nunn, we learn, wrote one of the more prescient
notes in the early stages of Lloyd Webber’s feline
project based on the poetry of T.S. Eliot: "I
believe all the characters must be Cats."
That worked out. Actually, Lloyd Webber is generous with
attribution — it was British theatrical mogul Cameron
Mackintosh’s idea to package "Song and
Dance" and, Lloyd Webber writes, Broadway director
Hal Prince’s contribution to "Phantom"
cannot be overstated. Lloyd Webber’s love for his
brother, Julian, genuinely shines through the book.
so many of my theatre colleagues my marriage had been a
rock of stability in a flaky thespian sea," Sir
Andrew writes, describing the difficulties following his
divorce, almost, but not quite, allowing that
treacherous waters can swallow even the very best of us.
In Part Two, perhaps. If he decides to really trash the