Andrew Lloyd Webber, king of musicals, at 70 | Music | DW | 22.03.2018
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Music

Andrew Lloyd Webber, king of musicals, at 70

The legend behind "Cats" and "Phantom of the Opera" has been composing acclaimed musicals for more than half a century, winning numerous awards along the way. Andrew Lloyd Webber celebrates 70 years on March 22.

Andrew Lloyd Webber remains an unparalleled talent. He has won numerous prestigious awards, among them Tonys, Grammys and an Oscar. Many of his melodies have been performed by world-class stars, with cover versions making it to the top of international charts. At one point, four of his musicals were shown simultaneously on Broadway. The British composer knows the secret to making a song a lasting success.

Andrew Lloyd-Webber Tim Rice - Andrew Lloyd Webber(L) and Tim Rice(R) pose with their Oscars after winning Best Achievement for an Original Song during the 69th Academy Awards ceremony

Lloyd Webber and Rice (right) won Oscars for their song 'You Must Love Me' from 'Evita' in 1997

And he also knows how to choose the right partners — songwriter Tim Rice is a prime example. Together with Rice, Webber wrote his first musical, "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" in 1968. Back then, Lloyd Webber was only 20 years old.

Three years later, the team achieved its international breakthrough with the famous rock opera "Jesus Christ Superstar," particularly popular among the hippie community.

In 1978, Lloyd Webber and Rice told the story of Eva Peron, the second wife of former Argentine president Juan Peronom "Evita." The song "Don't Cry For Me Argentina" became a huge hit, though the duo's third collaboration would be their last major production together.

The composer was notorious for his angry outbursts. Rice had grown tired of his tantrums over the music, Lloyd Webber would later recount in his memoirs. "Looking back, I realize that my angst in the studio was the first of many meltdowns I have had. … I have behaved appallingly in theaters because of bad sound more times than I care to mention," he wrote.

The cast of Cats performing

The musical 'Cats' has captivated audiences around the world for decades

Blockbuster after blockbuster

But ending the collaboration with Rice didn't affect Lloyd Webber's creativity. In 1981, the musical "Cats" premiered at the New London Theatre, with a story based on a collection of poems by T.S. Eliot entitled "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats." The world-famous musical, with its hit song "Memory," would go on to play for a record-breaking 21 years, ending its run in London's West End in 2002.

It was followed by "Starlight Express" in 1984, and "The Phantom of the Opera" in 1986 — his biggest success.

Lloyd Webber has continued to compose, with the 2015 musical "School of Rock" premiering on Broadway, the first British musical to do so. However, he hasn't matched the success of the 1970s and '80s.

Entrepreneur, politician and three-time husband

Webber's father was a composer, and his mother a piano teacher. It didn't come as a surprise when he premiered his first composition at the age of 9. He would, naturally, go on to study music at school.

Lloyd Webber was already a rich man at the age of 29. Today, his assets are estimated at almost €1 billion ($1.2 billion). In the 1970s, he founded the company Really Useful Group, which manages all the rights for his works and makes millions by selling copyrights.

Großbritannien London Andrew Lloyd Webber und Madeleine Gurdon (picture-alliance/Photoshot)

Madeleine Gurdon, Lloyd Webber's third wife, is a thoroughbred breeder and former event rider

But it hasn't all been success; at times, the company also lost money, so much so that Lloyd Webber even considered selling his music empire. In an interview with the German daily Die Welt, he once called himself a "very, very bad businessman."

Lloyd Webber sat in Britain's House of Lords as a Conservative for 20 years, before withdrawing from politics in 2017. He was knighted in 1992, and he's been married three times. His second wife, singer Sarah Brightman, debuted the role of Christine in "The Phantom of the Opera" in 1986.

He married his third wife, Madeleine Gurdon, in 1991. Lloyd Webber has five children and several grandchildren.

Music: Elixir of life

Over his life, Lloyd Webber has faced several serious challenges, among them cancer, as well as addiction to drugs and alcohol. But he's been able to surmount these challenges with his music. 

"I'm a composer for the joy of it," he told Rolling Stone magazine earlier this month. "It's what I do, and it's what makes me tick, really. I always have melody in my head."

In his honor, a musical gala will premiere in Basel on March 23, presenting Lloyd Webber's most beautiful melodies. The show is set to tour across Germany, Austria and Switzerland through next year. On April 1, US broadcaster NBC is set to air a live television special of "Jesus Christ Superstar," with R&B star John Legend as Jesus and cult rocker Alice Cooper as King Herod.

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