Prone to Wander

Andrew Lloyd Webber: Genius or Sellout?

Lord Lloyd Webber sells West End theatresLast year, I made a list of all of the famous people that I would like or would’ve liked to meet. I’ve written blog posts so far about Madeline L’Engle, Antoni Gaudi, Diego Rivera, and Frida Kahlo. I’d like to write a post about each person on that list, and today, I’d like to devote this post to Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Oh, ALW. What can I say? He literally changed my life at age 14. My parents had gotten tickets to see Phantom of the Opera in Tulsa. At the last minute, my dad couldn’t go and instead, I went with my mom to see the musical. Talk about a life-changing experience. The only musicals I had seen thus far in my life were mainly Rodgers & Hammerstein. They’re great, but totally different from the musical spectacle genre that Lloyd Webber brought into existence. When I watched for the first time, and the Phantom hit those spine-tingling high notes, the candles came out of the mist, and the chandelier came crashing down to that pounding organ music, shivers ran up and down my spine. Andrew Lloyd Webber was a genius. No doubt about it. I wanted to grow up and be Christine in that musical. Looking back at my old journal entries from those years, most of the pages were devoted to my aspirations for Broadway. I thought I had found my destiny. I sang along to the soundtrack over and over again, and even basically memorized the whole thing so that I sang almost the entire musical from memory when I was outside mowing the lawn or doing yard work. And no matter how many times I listen to that original cast soundtrack, I always cry at the end… it still never fails!

I’d still LOVE to play Christine, but through my forays into the musical theatre world in the past, I’ve learned that it can be a difficult line of work. I have gotten to play a few great roles, but generally for political reasons it’s sometimes very difficult to get a foot in the door. I’d still love to do some community theatre again in the future but I’m a little disillusioned by some past experiences in Texas that had nothing to do with the director casting talent and everything to do with her casting only close family and friends. However, it can be done. My sister-in-law (Josh’s brother’s wife) is living the dream in New York. She’s gotten some good musical theatre roles already and we’re praying that she lands her breakout role very soon!

Anyway, since Phantom, I’ve been able to see other musicals by Andrew Lloyd Webber, including Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (theologically shady but so much fun!) and Cats! I got to see Cats at the New London Theater in London just a few weeks before it closed its incredible 21 year run.

However, I have a serious bone to pick with Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber nowadays: and it’s about his recent movie adaptation of The Phantom of the Opera.

If you’ve never seen the musical, and you’ve only seen this movie, I need you to do two things: 1) Throw the movie away if you own it, and 2) Go buy a ticket to see the musical, or buy the “Original Cast Soundtrack” with Michael Crawford and listen to it at least 10 times to clear the old one out of your head. Yes, I’m serious!

Here are my main problems with the movie:

1) Actors were primarily cast, not singers. The man playing the Phantom is Gerard Butler, who is a great actor but a horrible singer (sorry Gerard… and sorry Martha!). The Phantom is supposed to have the most amazing, astounding voice you have ever heard… and Butler can’t hit most of the musical’s most important notes. He’s a mediocre singer even when he can hit them. The magic of this musical is centered around the amazing music and the incredible voices of the singers… and I still can’t believe that Lloyd Webber allowed his most famous musical to be sung like that, filmed, and sold to the public.

2) Poor Acting. The girl who plays Christine has a decent voice most of the time, but it’s not very interesting or strong. However, that’s not what really gets me. Her blank facial expressions and lack of acting ability kill the depth of Christine’s character. In the movie, she has the same surprised look with her eyebrows raised the whole time. She makes Christine look comatose and drugged, not enchanted and conflicted.

3) The Ending! What in the world have you done by changing the ending, ALW? Did you think that the old ending wasn’t good enough? The extra scene in the movie where it hints at what happened to the Phantom takes away from the musical’s beautiful and tragic ending. It’s so much better not to know.

Finally, I’ve been out of American pop culture for quite a while, but I heard some rumor that Sir Lloyd Webber is hosting some sort of “America’s Got Talent” or “American Idol” type reality show? Say it’s not true. Come on, ALW, I’m willing to overlook what this Smithsonian Magazine article said about how your composing might not be as unique as we think. (It asserts that some experts think that his famous melodies might be quite similar to lines composed by some famous old italian opera composers.) But I just can’t overlook a reality show. Don’t sell out. Please don’t sell out. Please don’t write a horrible “Phantom of the Opera” sequel. Come up with something new, something unique, something unfettered by too much spectacle (maybe you ought to tone it down a little these days). I know you can, and I’m waiting for it!!


  1. you’re so funny 🙂
    i agree that butler’s voice was very weak… but i still love to look at him. hahah!

    and i hadn’t really thought much about emmy… emma (?!) rossum’s acting ability (or lack thereof) before now. but you’re right. she was totally boring. i do, however, think she has a great voice. but that’s probably b/c i saw her in another movie first, and she was fantastic (voice-wise) in that one.

    anyway… i’ll definitely second your suggestion (command?) to immediately go out and see the live musical if you haven’t already. it’s phenomenal!

    (miss you, friend!)

  2. Chelsea

    Ah, how I love ALW! In fact, I just told a friend yesterday how much I want to marry Sir Webber because he’s changed my life as well. 😉 I have an article from a Smithsonian magazine about him that I read recently – I’ll send it to you sometime – all about the great ALW. Also, about television, he does indeed host a show on the BBC in the UK that I watched from time to time in London, but don’t worry, it still had some integrity… it was called “I’d Do Anything”, and was basically ALW and a few others acting as judges to audition people for roles in “Oliver!” in London. And I think he did the same thing in the US for the “Grease: You’re the One That I Want” show.

    The movie may not be half as good as the real deal, but it was on TV yesterday and I still cried at the end, as always. 😉

  3. Pingback: A Grief Observed « Prone to Wander

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