Growing up, my first experience of musicals was from a tape of Andrew Lloyd Webber songs that me and the family played in the car almost continuously the summer I turned 10. This was added to by VHS tapes of Cats, Joseph and his Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and the fiftieth birthday celebration which we owned. Once I went to university to study musical theatre I found a snobbery regarding these songs I had spent a childhood loving and there was an anger towards Lloyd Webber and his big musicals. So which is it? Is he an innovator and worthy of a statue in his honour, or is he to blame for an apparent decline in the quality of musicals?
Norman Lebrecht is very clear on where he stands regarding the composer: in his blog he claims that whilst Lloyd Webber may know how to sell a show he “has trashed down the genre to a series of musical clichés and pop tunes”. Whilst I might agree that Lloyd Webber’s influence on scale and technology is evident, I disagree that he has caused musical theatre to be a form “that barely engages the brain”. Lloyd Webber is merely one facet of a widespread genre. It is still a predominantly American theatrical form and, in their hands, engaging and thought-provoking musicals abound. However, I also believe that British writers can be up there, too, if given the chance to nurture their shows. Lebrecht also harks back to the early musicals that sat between grand opera and low brow music hall. We have now lost the music hall tradition and as such new parameters have been set; I could argue that musical theatre has merely expanded to hold the middle ground as well as filling a niche in the more low brow entertainment.
In regards to this statue I do agree it is a mistake in so far as it comes across as very narcissistic. Regardless of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s involvement, there is an arrogance around a statue of a someone still alive. I believe they mean more when given retrospectively and in memorial of a life. Who knows what Lloyd-Webber might still do? He may squander everything and we won’t want to have a memorial to him, or he may produce his best work yet. Additionally, if Broadway is not giving Harold Prince or Stephen Sondheim statues then Lloyd Webber doesn’t deserve his yet, either. What I would agree on though is that he should have one at some point because, love him or hate him, there is no denying he has brought audiences to musical theatre and helped place the West End in the history books of musical theatre.
Therefore, whilst I agree a statue may be apt I believe it premature to erect one just yet. All I really know for sure though is that if a statue is put up it won’t cause me to want to leave the country like Lebrecht.
Photo by Flickr user Robert Couse-Baker under a Creative Commonc Licence.