Sunday 22, April

Andrew Lloyd Webber: My career in 7 songs

"I'm maybe a bit of an oddball in Britain," says Andrew Lloyd Webber, "but all my life I've loved musicals".

"I think that might have been a little bit of an exception, even then," he says, modestly. "You have to understand that. in Britain, musicals have always been [outside] the mainstream.

"But I have had big hits from musicals, as other people have. No Matter What, from Whistle Down the Wind, was number one for Boyzone. So it's not impossible."

Madonna also took Another Suitcase in Another Hall into the top 10 in 1997 after claiming the song for Eva Peron in the film version of the musical.

"Madonna annexed it," deadpans the composer.

Magical Mr Mistoffelees, from Cats

Cats was the first musical Lloyd Webber wrote without a lyricist, basing the story around poet TS Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, which he read as a child.

"Up to that time, I'd mostly written the music first, then the lyrics were set to it," he says. "I wanted to see if I could do it the other way round. And, as it happens, Magical Mr Mistoffelees was one of the first ones I did.

"The thing about Eliot's verse is it almost sings to you. I mean, the verse of that [poem] seemed quite funky to me and then you have the chorus with, 'Oh well, I never / Was there ever a cat so clever / As magical Mr Mistoffelees'.

"Those poems are almost like lyrics. They've got choruses and they've got verses and they've got middle sections. It was a joy to set it to music."

As if We Never Said Goodbye, from Sunset Boulevard

Based on Billy Wilder's film of the same name, Sunset Boulevard tells the story of aging silent screen goddess Norma Desmond.

As if We Never Said Goodbye comes late in the show, as Desmond imagines her dramatic return to the screen. The audience's knowledge that she's deluding herself lends the song its lingering melancholy.

"That's a fantastic moment for a musical dramatist," says Lord Lloyd-Webber.

"When I first saw the movie of Sunset Boulevard I thought, 'gosh, if ever I was able to get the rights, that's the moment that really makes it worthwhile."

The song has been performed by Elaine Page, Barbara Dickinson and Patti LuPone, amongst others, but the definitive version is by Glenn Close, who has played Desmond twice on Broadway.

"The interesting thing with Sunset is it's a great bonus for the audience if you've got a movie star in the role, because people relate more to Norma as a movie star than anything else," says Lord Lloyd-Webber.

"The thing about Glenn is that, although she herself wouldn't claim to be the greatest singer on earth, she's probably one of the greatest actresses.

"She makes that moment incredibly special."

Stick it to the Man, from School of Rock

Lord Lloyd-Webber's most recent hit is School of Rock - the story of a feckless substitute teacher who inspires his class by getting them to compete in a Battle of the Bands competition.

It's based on the 2002 Jack Black film, which he was introduced to by his wife, Madeline.

"When I heard the line in the movie, 'stick it to the man', I thought, 'well, there's a song here'." he recalls. "I had the tune for that in literally seconds."

"It was always going to be a guitar based song. That 'durr-durr, durr-durr' riff takes me back to the days when we were recording Jesus Christ Superstar and we had Led Zeppelin in the studio next door."

The nature of the musical meant that Lord Lloyd-Webber had to find 13 young performers for each production, who each play their own instruments as well as dancing, singing and acting.

"They really, really do play," he says of the highly-impressive casts. "There's no enhancement, no pre-recording, nothing.

"After the first two or three previews, I realised the audience didn't believe that, so I had to make an announcement at the beginning saying 'everything is played live!'."

Andrew Lloyd Webber's retrospective album Unmasked: The Platinum Collection is available now.

More on Andrew Lloyd Webber BBC Music homepage BBC Music News LIVE


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