Andrew Lloyd Webber (b. 1948) is the most successful composer of musicals of his generation and also a breaker of molds for the type. His predecessors were, for the most part, American: New York-based songwriters steeped in Broadway tradition. Lloyd Webber saw his share of shows as a child, too, but he was born in London, the son of William Lloyd Webber, Director of the London College of Music, and was trained at the Royal Academy of Music, hardly the sort of place where you'd be likely to hear Oklahoma!
Nevertheless, Lloyd Webber hooked up with lyricist Tim Rice, and the two began work on what would be a typical project for them, a musical based on the Biblical story of Joseph and his coat of many colors. Titled Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, it brought in a strong rock & roll influence. After writing a second unproduced musical, the two hit on the idea of writing a musical based on the life of Jesus Christ from the point of view of Judas (not the sort of idea likely to occur to a Broadway composer) and, again, imbued with rock. Unable to finance a stage version, Lloyd Webber and Rice did manage to record their show, and Jesus Christ Superstar went on to sales in the millions all over the world. The hit musical version followed.
Lloyd Webber and Rice then split, with the composer writing film scores and working on an abortive musical with playwright Alan Ayckbourne (Jeeves), after which Rice returned with another audacious idea: a musical based on the life of Argentine dictator (or dictator's wife, depending on how you look at it) Eva Peron. Evita (1976) repeated the pattern of Jesus Christ Superstar, with its hit record album followed by a successful theatrical run in the West End and then on Broadway.
The Lloyd Webber-Rice partnership, having proved itself again, was severed (Rice went on to write Chess), and Lloyd Webber next wrote a musical revue based on T.S. Eliot's whimsical poems about Cats (1981). This time, the show came before the album, and it's still running. By this time, Lloyd Webber had largely abandoned the rock elements of his work in favor of what critics found a pastiche style that borrowed from classical and opera sources. He had also become a brand name (and a corporation, the Really Useful Company) that assured at least a modest success for subsequent shows, though critics were often unimpressed with his efforts.
Downgrading the status of his lyricists, Lloyd Webber went on to a series of successful shows (Song and Dance, Starlight Express) before scoring another long- (and still-) running hit in 1987 (1988 in New York) with a musical adaptation of The Phantom of the Opera. Aspects of Love (1989-1990) was less successful, however. Lloyd Webber debuted a musical adaptation of the Billy Wilder film Sunset Boulevard in the early '90s, and it proved to be one of his rare disappointments, failing to earn either good reviews or healthy ticket sales. In 1996, Alan Parker adapted Evita for the screen; Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice contributed a new song, "You Must Love Me," to the production, which starred Madonna. "You Must Love Me" won the Best Original Song award at the 1997 Academy Awards. ~ William Ruhlmann