Posts Tagged ‘Andrew Lloyd Webber’

Giving Face: Glenn Close’s Return to Broadway in ‘Sunset Boulevard’

February 17th, 2017 Comments off

by Samuel L. Leiter

Glenn Close in 'Sunset Boulevard.' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Glenn Close in ‘Sunset Boulevard.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Talk about star power! No, I’m not referring to Glenn Close, the estimable star of Sunset Boulevard, now in glittery revival at the Palace Theatre. I mean Hillary Clinton, who, the night I attended, brought the house to a roaring, cameras-out, standing ovation as she took her seat just before the show began. Close, despite a fine, if overripe, performance, had to compete with her audience’s divided attention all night.

Partly, this is because the musical adaptation of Sunset Boulevard, based on the classic 1950 Billy Wilder film, is, while generally entertaining, simply not that great. It was first produced with Patti LuPone as Norma Desmond in London in 1993, with Glenn Close (who won the Tony) starring in the 1994 Broadway version (which, despite a nearly two and a half year run, lost a fortune). The current version arrives after premiering at London’s English National Opera, its leads intact.

With book and lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton (much of the ordinary dialogue is sung as even more ordinary recitative) and score by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, the show closely follows the movie’s plot and includes many of its familiar lines. Apart from two aria-like songs displaying Webber at his most lushly melodic and theatrically emotional—“As If We Never Said Goodbye” and “With One Look”—the well-performed score is not particularly memorable. Fortunately, a huge, 40-piece orchestra led by Kirsten Blodgette (one of Broadway’s largest ever we’re told) makes even the more mediocre numbers sound their best.

Michael Xavier and the cast of 'Sunset Boulevard.' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Michael Xavier and the cast of ‘Sunset Boulevard.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Sunset Boulevard, as any film buff knows, tells of onetime, silent screen goddess Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson on screen), 50, her fame a memory, living in the decaying splendor of a Sunset Boulevard mansion with her faithful, bullet-headed, immaculately groomed butler and first husband, Max Mayerling (Fred Johanson; Erich von Stroheim on screen), the former director who made Norma famous.

There the deluded, reclusive, garishly dressed and heavily made-up former star—her fantasies maintained by the ever-looming Max—dreams of her comeback in a spectacular film she’s written about Salomé in which she hopes to star at Paramount under the direction of Cecil B. DeMille (Paul Schoeffler; DeMille himself on screen). When a handsome, flat-broke screenwriter, Joe Gillis (Michael Xavier; William Holden on screen), shows up, desperate for work, she asks for his help on what he recognizes as her awful screenplay. Joe’s status as Norma’s kept man coupled with a budding romance with script reader Betty Schaeffer (Siobhan Dillon) leads to tragic results.

Glenn Close in 'Sunset Boulevard.' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Glenn Close in ‘Sunset Boulevard.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

At the end, the now insane, wild-eyed Norma—garbed outlandishly as a 1920s movie version of Salomé—mistakes the cops and reporters for studio employees as she descends a staircase to deliver her devastating tagline, “And now, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.”

Director Lonny Price’s revival has eliminated much of the fabled grandiosity of the overproduced first production, opting for a more simplified approach within James Noone’s elaborate framework of metal staircases and catwalks, dominated by a remarkable chandelier suggesting a series of drooping teardrops, one above the other.

Supplemented by the brilliant lighting of Mark Henderson, the excellent period costumes of Tracy Christensen (with Anthony Powell doing Close’s strikingly over-the-top ensembles), b/w videos (uncredited) of 1940s Hollywood, and lively choreography by Stephen Mear, this Sunset Boulevard remains visually sumptuous. And let’s not forget the dead-body-in-the-pool effect that opens and closes the show.

For all its exaggerations and Swanson’s larger-than-life performance, Wilder’s film was a darkly cynical, noirish satire on the fickleness of fame and the ruthlessness behind Hollywood’s glamorous exterior. Except for rare moments, Price’s staging, in a fatal mistake, fails to capture the darkness, being surprisingly upbeat, paced at machine-gun speed, and with only scattered moments of the needed gothic anxiety demanded by the story.

Xavier’s Joe, tall and hunky (body worshipers will appreciate his swimsuit scene), comes off more like a James Stewart-like boy-next-door than a down-on-his-luck skeptic. Johansen’s Max, physically imposing with a gifted baritone voice, is too overbearing and lacks the necessary subtle menace. Dillon plays Betty, the formulaic ingénue, according to formula.

Close, nearly 70 but playing 50, inspires thoughts regarding similarities between herself and Norma. Her pitchy singing voice is not Broadway’s best, but her acting is strong enough, even within the deliberately broad, almost grotesque, theatricality she adopts (even Swanson’s own campiness doesn’t compare) to jerk tears when she launches into “With One Look.” But the emphasis on her exaggerations takes the show too far from its deeper implications.

This revival of Sunset Boulevard is smart to have pared down its visual excesses. The darkness it evokes, though, is more in its lighting than in the world it creates. Which is not so smart.

Sunset Boulevard
Palace Theatre
1564 Broadway, NYC
Through June 25

Samuel L. Leiter is Distinguished Professor Emeritus (Theater) of Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center, CUNY. He has written and/or edited 27 books on Japanese theater, New York theater, Shakespeare, and the great stage directors. For more of his reviews, visit Theatre’s Leiter Side (







Andrew Lloyd Webber Celebrates 4 Shows on Broadway

February 10th, 2017 Comments off
The casts of Andrew Lloyd Webber's current shows on Broadway. (Photo: Nathan Johnson via The Broadway Blog.)

The casts of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s current shows on Broadway. (Photo: Nathan Johnson via The Broadway Blog.)

Moments before the curtain went up on the Broadway revival of Sunset Boulevard, starring Glenn Close, the stars of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s productions came together to celebrate the legendary composer’s historic achievement of having four musicals running simultaneously on Broadway with a commemorative photo.

Lloyd Webber posed backstage at Broadway’s Palace Theatre with cast members from Sunset Boulevard (Glenn Close, Michael Xavier, Siobhan Dillon, Fred Johanson), School of Rock – The Musical (Eric Petersen, Jersey Sullivan, Rachel Katzke), CATS (Jessica Hendy, Harris Milgrim, Tanner Ray Wilson), and The Phantom of the Opera (James Barbour, Kaley Ann Voorhees).

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Broadway Trifecta Scores Big

January 2nd, 2017 Comments off
'School of Rock' (Photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

‘School of Rock’ (Photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

All three of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Broadway musicals rang in the New Year with record-breaking sales, smashing house records at the Winter Garden (School of Rock – The Musical), Majestic (The Phantom of the Opera) and Neil Simon (CATS) Theatres. 

School of Rock – The Musical shattered the house record for the third time at the Winter Garden Theatre by grossing $2,022,136.11for the week ending December 31, 2016. The prior record was set this week last year by the musical which grossed $1,671,628.18. Additionally, School of Rock set a new record for the highest grossing single performance in the Winter Garden’s history at theWednesday, December 28 matinee, with a gross of $241,819.50. In the U.K., School of Rock broke house records at the New London Theatre (a record previously held by War Horse).

Kim Faure and Christine Cornish Smith in 'CATS.' (Photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

Kim Fauré and Christine Cornish Smith in ‘CATS.’ (Photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

At the Majestic Theatre, Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera smashed its previous show / house record with a final gross of$1,942,351.00 for the week ending December 31, 2016.The record was set previously for the week ending December 29, 2013 when the musical grossed $1,843,295.83.

The first-ever revival of Lloyd Webber’s CATS broke house records at the Neil Simon for a 9-performance week, smashing the record previously set by All The Way, with a $1,723,568.70 gross for the week ending December 31, 2016.

Andrew Lloyd Webber Reigns Supreme With 3 Shows Back on Broadway

August 1st, 2016 Comments off
Andrew Lloyd Webber (center) with the leads from his current Broadway productions.. (Photo: Nathan Johnson via The Broadway Blog.)

Andrew Lloyd Webber (center) with the leads from his current Broadway productions. (Photo: Nathan Johnson via The Broadway Blog.)

Moments before the curtain went up on the first-ever Broadway revival of CATS, the stars of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s productions came together to celebrate the legendary composer’s rare distinction of having, once again, three shows running on Broadway with a special photo.

Lloyd Webber posed backstage at Broadway’s Neil Simon Theatre (250 W 52ndStreet) with his three leading players, Tony Award-nominated Alex Brightman (Dewey Finn in School of Rock – The Musical), James Barbour (Phantom in The Phantom of the Opera), and Broadway’s newest leading lady, Leona Lewis (Grizabella in CATS).

Jellicle Cats Come One, Come All: CATS Returns to Broadway

July 31st, 2016 Comments off
Andy Huntington Jones and the cast of 'CATS.' (Photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

Andy Huntington Jones and the cast of ‘CATS.’ (Photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

Cats—whether you’re talking about the household pet or the legendary Broadway musical—are polarizing. People either seem to love the deliberate aloofness of four-legged felines or wonder, “Why bother?”

Over the years, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1981 musical based on T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats has become a parody of itself. (A Saturday Night Live commercial parody dating back to 1986 helped spawn the phrase, “I laughed, I cried, it was better than CATS.”) But one can’t deny the impact of a show that swept the 1983 Tony Awards with 10 nominations and 7 wins including Best Musical. With 7,485 performances, the original production still ranks as the fourth longest-running show of all time.

Kim Faure and Christine Cornish Smith in 'CATS.' (Photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

Kim Fauré and Christine Cornish Smith in ‘CATS.’ (Photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

While cats are said to have nine lives, Broadway’s incarnation has at least two, with the first revival opening tonight at the Neil Simon Theatre. Directed, once again, by Trevor Nunn, a nimble ensemble takes to a raked stage littered with oversized garbage conceived by returning set and costume designer John Napier. For those who saw the original mega-hit, things look strikingly familiar—from the strings of brightly colored lights that adorn the junkyard set to that famous tire that ascends to the Heaviside Layer.

But where this CATS strays from its predecessor is in its choreography, brilliantly reimagined by Andy Blankenbuehler (Tony Award-winner for his work on Hamilton) and based on original choreography by Gillian Lynne. She expressed anger earlier this year for the changes to her work, stating, “It makes me feel like I’d like to murder. I have had a rotten time because of it. I did create the show, I really did.”

Georgina Pazcoguin in 'CATS.' (Photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

Georgina Pazcoguin in ‘CATS.’ (Photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

Yes, Ms. Lynne, you did. But you also provided a blueprint for Blankenbuehler to imbue CATS with a new sensibility; one riffed with syncopation and characterization.

Those familiar with the show will recognize the feline elegance of Victoria (Georgina Pazcoguin), the mischievous antics of Mongojerrie (Jess LeProtto) and Rumpleteazer (Shonica Goodin), and the magical athleticism of Mister Mistoffolees (Ricky Ubeda).

Demeter (Kim Fauré) and Bombalurina (Christine Cornish Smith) get a jolt of 21st century sexuality, while Jennyanydots (Eloise Kropp) tears a page out of 42nd Street with a tap number that rattles the rafters. Blankenbuehler earns his choreography credit in the playbill, but does so in a way that pays respectful homage to the original.

Leona Lewis in 'CATS.' (Photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

Leona Lewis in ‘CATS.’ (Photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

This production had a bit of a catfight when it came to casting the part of Grizabella, the Glamour Cat—a pivotal part that provides the musical’s emotional through-line. Nicole Scherzinger was scheduled to reprise her Olivier-nominated role on Broadway but pulled out last-minute to return to her gig as a judge on X Factor.

In an ironic twist, X Factor season three winner Leona Lewis landed the role, but her performance is a weak link in an otherwise stellar ensemble of triple-threats.

CATS has seen its share of Grizabellas, from West End original Elaine Paige to Tony Award-winner Betty Buckley and her longtime replacements Laurie Beechman and Liz Callaway. Each unique in their interpretation, Grizabella demands star power and a command of the stage (along with workhorse vocal chords that can belt an E-flat eight times a week). Though Lewis has the vocal chops, she’s markedly uncomfortable in comparison to her onstage litter.

In a bit of unintended irony (or a missed light cue in what is an otherwise visual feast from lighting designer Natasha Katz), Grizabella ascends to the Heaviside layer in upstage darkness, quickly forgotten as Old Deuteronomy (Quentin Earl Darrington) re-addresses the cats and ‘a new day has begun.”

Only time will tell is this CATS has staying power, but as we all know, cats tend to multiply, as do audience members craving an escape from the world’s woes. A dog’s life seems pretty easy, but these cats are having way more fun.

Neil Simon Theatre
250 West 52nd Street
Open-ended run

Want more CATS? Check out our exclusive interview with cast member Ahmad Simmons. Click here!


Matthew Wexler is The Broadway Blog’s editor. Follow him on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook at @roodeloo.

Arts Education Wins Big at 70th Annual Tony Awards

June 13th, 2016 Comments off
Andrew Lloyd Webber (Photo: )Featureflash Photo Agency /

Andrew Lloyd Webber (Photo: )Featureflash Photo Agency /

The American Theatre Wing (Heather Hitchens, President and CEO) announced via the live telecast of the Tony Awards on CBS, its new Andrew Lloyd Webber Initiative.

This major new national initiative, which is being funded with a $1.3 million, three-year grant from Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber, will support theatre education opportunities for underserved young people and under-resourced public schools around the United States.

This project is an extension of the work that the multi-Tony Award winning composer and producer has been doing for years overseas, using his foundation to promote and fund arts education in the United Kingdom.  It serves to both strengthen and expand the Wing’s core mission of nurturing the next generation of theatre makers and patrons.

The Andrew Lloyd Webber Initiative consists of three separate components:

  1. Classroom Resources: Through a grant-giving program, funding will be provided directly to under-resourced public schools to provide instruments, dance floors, lighting grids, and other necessary materials to help create new and enhance existing theatre programs.
  2. Extracurricular Training Scholarships: Funding will go towards covering the costs associated with sending select students to summer study and after school training programs.
  3. 4-Year Partial University Scholarships: Financial support will be provided to select students to pursue theatre studies at the University level.

Tonight we celebrated a remarkably diverse and exciting season on Broadway,” Ms. Hitchens said in a statement.  “Our partnership with Andrew on this initiative will help us ensure that the long term ecology of the theatre remains healthy, accessible, and inclusive.”

“I am passionate about the vital role of the arts in education,” Lord Lloyd Webber said. “Music is a universal language that knows no boundaries. My career started in schools with Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat which was premiered by a college in both Britain and the USA.  This is why the story of School of Rock struck such a chord with me. Disgracefully the arts have too often borne the brunt of shortsighted cuts to educational budgets. I am thrilled my Foundation can join with the expertise of the American Theatre Wing to launch this initiative and provide resources to those who will benefit from them the most. However, it is vital that we keep this going for years to come and I call upon other successful musicians and theatre professionals to come forward and join this initiative. Together we can nurture the talent of the future and bring the empowering force of music and the arts to a new generation.”

Tune In: Andrew Lloyd Webber Takes Over Elaine Page Podcast on 1/10

January 8th, 2016 Comments off
Andrew Lloyd Webber (photo: landmarkmedia /

Andrew Lloyd Webber (photo: landmarkmedia /

Andrew Lloyd Webber will sit in for Elaine Paige on the Olivier Award-winner’s weekly BBC 2 Radio program, “Elaine Paige on Sunday,” this Sunday, January 10, 2016.  Lloyd Webber will share songs and secrets from his career and collaborations, the musicals he grew up with, and the shows that have inspired him, from both the West End and Broadway.

The program will air on BBC 2 beginning at 8:00 AM EST / 1:00 PM GMT. US listeners can hear a live stream of the show by visiting:

Elaine Paige’s collaboration with Andrew Lloyd Webber goes back to 1978 when she originated the role of ‘Eva Perón’ in the world premiere of Evita, winning her the Laurence Olivier Award for “Performance of the Year in a Musical.”  She went on to originate the role of ‘Grizabella’ in CATS and had a Top 10 radio hit with her rendition of “Memory.” Paige followed Lloyd Webber to Broadway in 1996 when she played the role of ‘Norma Desmond’ to critical acclaim in Sunset Boulevard.

Have a listen of Elaine Page singing “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” from Evita.

Review: Broadway’s ‘School of Rock’

December 6th, 2015 Comments off

by Ryan Leeds

Alex Brightman and the cast of 'School of Rock.' (Photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

Alex Brightman and the cast of ‘School of Rock.’ (Photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

The kids are most definitely, all right. From this year’s bundle of cuteness in the latest revival of The King and I, to the dancing defiance that continues to play out in Matilda, it is safe to say the the future of Broadway rests in solid hands. The latest tribe of talented youth is currently taking the Winter Garden Theatre by storm in composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Glenn Slater’s musical School of Rock.

Based on the 2003 film of the same name, the tuner tells the completely unrealistic but charming tale about Dewey Finn (Alex Brightman), a washed up bum of a rock singer who shacks up in the home of his best friend/former rocker turned educator, Ned Schneebly (Spencer Moses). Facing pressure from Ned and his girlfriend, Patty De Marco (Mamie Parris), to pay the rent or move out, Dewey craftily concocts a plan when he receives a phone call from the prestigious Horace Green prep school. It turns out they are seeking a substitute teacher. With quick wit and a streak of opportunism, Finn poses as his best friend, accepts the job and arrives, hungover, to instruct the elementary tykes. He soon discovers that a streak of music mania runs through them and, instead of educating them with the intended curriculum, he throws his efforts into preparing them for a Battle of the Bands rock contest. Meanwhile, uptight principal Rosalie Mullins (Sierra Boggess) suspects that her class is not in the best hands. But, as is the case in movies and musical theater, happy endings ensue. When Mullins finally lets down her hair, love blossoms between her and Finn and conquers all.

'School of Rock' (Photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

‘School of Rock’ (Photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

At first glance, it seemed to me an odd choice for Lloyd Webber to have been at the helm here. For so long, I’ve related him to the schmaltzy (but admittedly enjoyable) music of Evita, Cats, and Phantom of the Opera. It then occurred to me that he composed the more hard-driving Jesus Christ Superstar and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, both of which offered more edge than the usual Broadway fare. He’s gone back to his roots with this score, even if he has consciously or sub-consciously stolen some riffs from existing artists. The students plea to their parents to be recognized, “If Only You Would Listen” is lifted directly from Lloyd Webber’s former writing partner, Tim Rice, who lyricized Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus’ “Someone Else’s Story” in Chess. Another song of defiance, “Stick It To the Man,” which in typical Lloyd Webber fashion is reprised multiple times, is a dead ringer for Pink’s “So What” (and offers the exact sentiment of Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It”). The rest of his score is serviceable, but not terribly memorable.

Sierra Boggess in 'School of Rock' (Photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

Sierra Boggess in ‘School of Rock’ (Photo: Matthew Murphy via The Broadway Blog.)

Even more surprising is the under-utilization of Sierra Boggess, whose glorious soprano captivates audiences every time she opens her mouth. In a recent New York TimesTalk, Lloyd Webber praised her as being one of his favorite performers to interpret the role of Christine in Phantom of the Opera and its sequel. One must then inquire why he didn’t choose to give her more to do here. Aside from a cheeky rendition of Mozart’s “Queen of the Night” aria and an adequate ballad in Act II (“Where Did the Rock Go”) there’s not a lot for her to do but scowl and glance disapprovingly at her staff.

Brightman is a true fireball. With a strong, powerful rock voice and  limber physicality, he is bringing enough energy to power Times Square. Some may argue that he’s simply impersonating Jack Black, but so be it. Black’s enthusiastic energy was contagious in the film, and Brightman is bringing that same level of charm to the stage.

But back to those kids! Sure, we’ve seen children sing. We’ve seen them dance. We’ve seen them act, and we’ve seen them play instruments. But this cast is doing it all with more intensity than you’d expect. A recorded announcement at the top of the show informs us that, yes, they are in fact playing their own instruments. What is so impressive and commendable is the inspiration this will yield for young theatergoers. It also provides a solid case for lawmakers and educational institutions to keep music programs in schools.

School of Rock, directed by Laurence Conner,  is not  one of the best shows on the boards right now. It is extremely loud and bombastic. But through all of the clutter, a great, big heart exists. Maybe this crotchety theater reviewer prefers more peaceful fare, but younger generations crave—and deserve—role models, which School of Rock will no doubt provide.

School of Rock
Winter Garden Theatre
50th Street and Broadway
Open-ended run.

Ryan Leeds is a freelance theater journalist who lives in Manhattan. He is the Chief Theater Critic for Manhattan Digest and a frequent contributor to Dramatics Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @Ry_Runner or on Facebook.

‘School of Rock’ Goes to School

October 12th, 2015 Comments off
Alex Brightman and the cast of 'School of Rock' (photo: Timmy Blupe via The Broadway Blog.)

Alex Brightman and the cast of ‘School of Rock’ (photo: Timmy Blupe via The Broadway Blog.)

Andrew Lloyd Webber and R&H Theatricals, a division of Rodgers & Hammerstein, an Imagem Company, announced today that high schools and youth performance groups in the USA and Canada will soon be able to perform School of Rock – The Musical. In an unprecedented move, Lloyd Webber has teamed with R&H Theatricals to grant youth performance rights before opening night on Broadway. School of Rock – The Musical will begin preview performances on Monday, November 9, 2015, with an opening set for Sunday, December 6, 2015. Applications for School of Rock – The Musical will be accepted immediately. Performance and Perusal Materials will ship to interested performance groups shortly after opening night, in January 2016.

“This musical is entirely about empowering kids to rock out, so what better way to herald its arrival and celebrate its themes than to allow youth performances from coast-to-coast,” Lloyd Webber said about the announcement.  “This will allow young fans to engage with the material in a much deeper way, and we think will only heighten enthusiasm for our Broadway premiere.”

Based on the smash hit 2003 film of the same title, School of Rock – The Musical will feature music from the movie, as well as an original score by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Glenn Slater, with a book by Julian Fellowes and direction by Laurence Connor (currently represented on Broadway by Les Miserables).

Produced by Paramount Pictures, the 2003 film was directed by Richard Linklater and starred Jack Black in a career-defining performance. The film was hailed by The New York Times as an “irresistible comic postscript to the rock revolution.” The film went on to gross more than $130 million worldwide.

School of Rock – The Musical follows Dewey Finn, a failed wannabe rock star who decides to earn a few extra bucks by posing as a substitute teacher at a prestigious prep school. Completely disinterested in academic work, Dewey decides to create his own curriculum, turning his class into a guitar-shredding, bass-slapping, mind-blowing rock band.

Tickets for School of Rock – The Musical are available by visiting the Winter Garden Theatre box office Monday– Saturdays between 10:00 am – 8:00 pm, online at, or by calling 800-447-7400.