Saturday, June 19, 2010

Webber thou goest...

I just saw "Cats" for the first time the other night, and I have to admit, it's not as horrendous as I've always feared. The fact that I was drinking helped, admittedly, but the show doesn't actually make you want to slash your wrists. And in context, the old cat singing "Memory" actually redeems that song from the Muzak Hell where people like Barbara Streisand, Barry Manilow and Celine Dion have sent it.

On the other hand, you know what gets really irritating? People repeating nonsense words over and over (and over and over and over). For example, jellicle jellicle jellicle jellicle jellicle jellicle jellicle jellicle jellicle jellicle jellicle jellicle jellicle jellicle jellicle jellicle.

Oh, and by the way. Jellicle.

"Cats" opened up on the West End in 1981, and was Lloyd Webber's fourth successful staged musical (preceeded by Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita - there was also Jeeves, based on the Jeeves and Wooster novels by P.G. Wodehouse, but it closed after only three weeks).

Say what you want about Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber (Baron Lloyd-Webber of Sydmonton, in Hampshire), but he's composed 13 musicals, two film scores, a song cycle, a set of variations, and a Latin Requiem Mass. He has also earned six Tony Awards, seven Olivier Awards, three Grammies, an Academy Award, one Golden Globe and the Kennedy Center Honors (and has been nominated for each more times than I can count).

He's also a known plagiarist, accused by people from Roger Waters of Pink Floyd to Christian singer-songwriter Ray Repp. In fact, Lloyd Webber settled out of court with the estate of Giacomo Puccini (Tosca, La Boheme, Madame Butterfly) for an undisclosed amount.

Know why? Remember "Music of the Night," the big number from Phantom of the Opera? This is a brief excerpt from a little-known Puccini opera called Girl of the Golden West. Pay close attention about 44 seconds into it.

Anyway, Lloyd Webber has been married three times; he met his second wife, Sarah Brightman, while still married to his first wife, Sarah Hugill (so he's got a thing for Sarah's - there are worse kinks...), and married her within 4 months of his divorce being finalized. He, in fact, wrote the part of Christine DaaƩ in Phantom specifically for Brightman, and she has since gone on to relative success in the "I want to be taken far more seriously than I deserve" category of pop music.

Not blessed with a particularly strong voice or a talent for finding the right note consistently, Ms Brightman also has a dark and ugly past she'd probably like to forget. See, before she met Lloyd Webber, she was a dancer, first on the British TV show Top of the Pops with their house dancers, Pan's People, and later as the lead in the leather-and-grinding group Hot Gossip.

(I remember Hot Gossip as a staple on The Kenny Everett All-Electric Video Show, the perfect British series for an adolescent boy - edgier, and funnier, I thought, than Benny Hill, the two shows actually used to make fun of each other; you might even have seen some of these sketches on Benny Hill and had no idea what they were doing. For some reason, the show never caught on in the States, although you can occasionally find it on more progressive PBS stations late at night.)

What Ms Brightman, in her continuing quest for dignity, would probably like to forget, is her disco career from that era. Her first hit, for instance, was the mind-meltingly horrendous "I Lost My Heart to a Starship Trooper."

She followed that up with the non-hit "Adventures Of The Love Crusader," and a truly depressing cover of "My Boyfriend's Back."

She may be reinventing herself as a classic/pop diva, but it's hard to escape your past.

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