InDepth InterView: Andrew Lloyd Webber Talks LOVE NEVER DIES, PHANTOM 25, Ricky Martin & More
On Friday, I had the exceptional honor of talking to the most successful composer in the world, Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber, all about the unprecedented new HD film version of his thrilling new musical coming to movie theaters in February, a continuation of the story begun in THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, titled LOVE NEVER DIES. In addition to outlining the impossibly detailed process of bringing a production as complex as the Simon Phillips Australian staging of LOVE NEVER DIES to the big screen, we also discuss the genesis of the show and what an immense achievement it is to now have the original musical - in the form of the 25th anniversary Royal Albert Hall production of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA - as well as the sequel - LOVE NEVER DIES - committed to celluloid, mere months apart. Also, 2012 is certainly the year of the Lord on Broadway thanks to new revivals of two of his most beloved musicals, JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR and EVITA (the latter starring Ricky Martin), as well as the 10,000th performance of PHANTOM on Broadway. Plus, Lloyd Webber clues us in on which musical of his he would like to film next - SUNSET BOULVEVARD, with either Madonna or original Tony-winning star Glenn Close - and he also elaborates on the indescribable allure of the Phantom legend, now, nearly thirty years after the original show's debut and expresses his enthusiasm for the revolutionary new age of theatre-on-film we are experiencing now - all of that and much, much more!
Purchase tickets to the movie theater screenings of LOVE NEVER DIES on February 28 and March 7 here.
Pre-order the DVD/Blu-ray of LOVE NEVER DIES here.
Pre-order the DVD/Blu-ray of PHANTOM 25 AT THE ROYAL Albert Hall here.
PC: The filmed production of LOVE NEVER DIES coming to DVD and Blu-ray is magnificent. I was totally blown away, particularly in that it truly feels like a film and not a staged video version at all.
ALW: I mean, I am so lucky - I am really, really pleased. As you know, they've approached it as a film - and, at one point, we took a decision when we were editing it that we would only have applause at the end of the Prologue; which is the first bit where he sings "Till I Hear You Sing".
PC: Of course.
ALW: And, the only other time we'd ever use applause was when it would have been naturalistic.
PC: A wise decision.
ALW: So, we obviously took the decision to do it in one act - we cut out the Entr'acte and cut out the music that starts Act Two in the theater. And, I think that the director who put it together - Brett - he played it to me, you know, with this big cut - as it is, in one piece - obviously thinking that I was going to say, "Let's put it all back," but, I was completely converted. I thought, "They know what they are doing - they are making it as a movie." So, let's make it as a movie - let's edit it like that; let's keep it moving. And, that's exactly what has happened.
PC: The attention to detail in this production is so pronounced in the film, as well.
PC: To have it replicated in the way it is in the film is sublime - in HD. The carousel is this show's answer to the spectacular chandelier in the original PHANTOM, in a way, I thought.
ALW: Yes, it does look extraordinary - that moment when it happens in the Australian show. I mean, it's very magical. And, I think we are blessed, actually, that Gabriela Tylesova - who designed it in Australia - she got the same flavor in the whole thing, as, in a way, Maria Bjornson did for the original PHANTOM.
ALW: You know, there's something about it - she's got sort of the texture of Coney Island very right, I think. And, this whole sort of strange, rather surreal world in which the whole thing takes place. [Pause.] I don't think one could have really asked for a better production of it.
PC: I completely agree. And, it matches your ecclectic yet cohesive score so well - it is contemporary and a throwback to a century ago; it has European and American sensibilities; cakewalk to hard rock to opera to pop. I think this is your most varied score to date. Do you agree?
ALW: Well, yeah - I mean, I tried to put into it what I thought was right for it. And, clearly, you know, [for example], we had to have something vaudevillian for little Meg sitting on the end of the pier, as if we were in Coney Island. And, that was the way I wanted to go. But, what is so great about the characters - not that I can go and revisit them again - but, what's great about them is that it does allow me to kind of get into the world of high romance. And, that's what it is - the actual relationship between Christine and the Phantom, I think, in LOVE NEVER DIES goes far further than the original.
PC: It really does.
ALW: It's a great joy to watch. It may be a bit of a conceit, but we do have a big duet between them - and it is very lengthy. But, I think it seems to hold.
PC: A magical moment.
ALW: I must say, I think that, again, we are so lucky - and, those Australians; I mean, they're so photogenic!
PC: You can say that again!
ALW: That was something I was worried about - as one always is when you are thinking about a theatre show - that maybe the performances would be, you know, too strong for the screen. Obviously, they were playing in Melbourne to a huge number of spectators.
PC: A huge theater.
ALW: But, yet, they were able to bring things back to a level for the camera where it doesn't feel stagey at all.
PC: Not at all. I found that the intense actorly commitment on behalf of Ben Lewis and Anna O'Byrne rises to the almost Chekhovian level achieved by Ramin Karimloo and Sierra Boggess in PHANTOM 25. It is rare to see acting and singing on equal par to this extent.
ALW: Oh, I agree. We've been very lucky with both films, as it were. [Laughs.]
PC: When Sierra Boggess did this column we discussed the ending of PHANTOM 25 and how the emphasis on the moment of Christine's choice was slightly altered to reflect the story as it continues in LOVE NEVER DIES. Could you elaborate on that moment?
ALW: Well, it hasn't really changed - obviously, the director for the 25th may have put some ideas of his own into it, but, the actual narrative of the story hasn't really changed.
PC: It's very subtle.
ALW: I mean, yes, she does come back and it is clear there is a huge dilemma - but, I think that has always been clear, even in the current production. So, I'm not entirely convinced - I mean, I didn't set out to alter the thing at all.
PC: Sierra has played Christine in all three versions of the show - LOVE NEVER DIES, PHANTOM VEGAS and, now, PHANTOM 25. She's the complete Christine, it seems - and such a talent.
ALW: Yes. Yes. Yes. Exactly.
PC: Was there ever going to be an automaton version of Christine to mimic the model in the original?
ALW: No. I mean, there is one in the Hal Prince production. But, I mean, all of the things that were done with the Royal Albert Hall were obviously done because we had absolutely no conventional theatre space. The deal with the Royal Albert Hall really was that Cameron Mackintosh produced it and he wanted to do it, really, for me. So, I decided that would be great and I would just turn up!
PC: How fabulous! What an unforgettable celebration of your most cherished show.
ALW: So, no, I was not involved, actually, with any of the physical presentation or anything. I saw the design in rough model form. But, of course, a decision had to be taken to use a lot of projection - which we don't do in the theatre.
PC: Of course not.
ALW: So, yeah, in a way, it was a great joy to me - because I just turned up and enjoyed it! [Laughs.]
PC: PHANTOM 25 will be the way so many people experience PHANTOM since it is the version available on Blu-ray and DVD now. Is that a reason to film these productions such as PHANTOM 25 and LOVE NEVER DIES, so that people can experience them no matter where they are in the world?
ALW: Well, I think we are looking at the skills - thinking of that broadcast of PHANTOM, I had to look into the truck to see it. I mean, the guy is operating 17 cameras on the go!
ALW: And making choices as he goes along! I don't think that sort of skill existed - that we could film in this sort of way - five years ago.
PC: Definitely not.
ALW: I think that is true of the filming of LOVE NEVER DIES - we actually did that over three days. So, although there is one live master performance, as it were, there are many, many bits of it that were actually done in an empty theater. But, of course, the Albert Hall - I mean, that was all done on the night.
PC: Filmed on the fly.
ALW: I think it's all very interesting, because I think it opens up the opportunity for people to film and to produce and to present musicals in this way, to a very high standard - and without going to all the huge expense of actually filming it like you would a movie.
PC: The technology standard of TV itself has changed - square, 4:3 aspect ratio TV versus widescreen, 16:9 TV. We have proscenium TV now, essentially - better to view stage shows on.
ALW: Yes! Yes. Exactly.
PC: 5.1 and 7.1 surround sound is truly enveloping and engrossing. I noticed the surround sound on PHANTOM 25 was fantastic and LOVE NEVER DIES is even more immersive.
ALW: Well, yes. The surround in both shows was produced by the same person, who is Nigel Wright - who has worked with me on practically everything - and me. So, the LOVE NEVER DIES mix was very much me. Because, I mean, I really wanted to be on top of that - with the music. Again, that is the result of a really interesting thing - that you could actually get that quality of orchestral sound now without it all being post-done and post-dubbed.
PC: How interesting.
ALW: There is virtually nothing on either LOVE NEVER DIES or PHANTOM OF THE OPERA AT THE ROYAL Albert Hall - there is a little bit of work on PHANTOM OF THE OPERA AT THE Albert Hall, actually, with one or two bits. But, with LOVE NEVER DIES, there is nothing - nothing - that wasn't done at the time. There is no over-dubbing. Of course, movies do have that. So, I think you do get an immediacy out of this technique that perhaps you don't out of the way films have been done - so far.
PC: The roller coaster, the carousel opening and "Beauty Underneath" are truly sensory experiences in this new film of LOVE NEVER DIES. "Beauty Underneath" sounds a bit more amped up in this version of the score. Did you re-orchestrate for this production?
ALW: Well, no - I guess that it's probably the mix that is slightly different. We made both "Beauty Underneath" and THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA title song of the old show, we mixed them much more rock-ily than we did in the theatre.
PC: WHISTLE DOWN THE WIND, that you wrote with Jim Steinman, is one of my favorite scores of yours. Didn't you approach Jim to do THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA at one point, way back when?
ALW: We did talk about it - yes, we did. It's got to be, probably, nearly thirty years ago now - it must be. I remember we met in Paris. But, it ended up that that didn't happen. But, he was so busy at that time - Meat Loaf was right at the peak, too.
PC: Did you ever consider Jim or a more pop-based lyricist for LOVE NEVER DIES?
ALW: No, not really. But, also, though, this was three or four years ago and I know that Jim wasn't that well at the time so we didn't end up going that way.
PC: Were you ever considering Ricky Martin for PHANTOM 25 or LOVE NEVER DIES at any point? Will he possibly be singing an EVITA song on GLEE coming up?
ALW: I don't know. I don't know what he is doing on GLEE. I literally just heard him sing - and he was singing very, very well. Obviously, he's still new to the material, but I heard him a couple of days ago. I do think he will be a very, very good Che.
PC: How great to hear.
ALW: I hadn't thought of him as a Phantom, but he is a very, very talented singer and could easily be.
PC: Is it true that JOSEPH is being considered next to come to the cinema?
ALW: Well, no, there are no plans to do anything we JOSEPH in the cinema, specifically, at the moment.
PC: With SUPERSTAR and EVITA coming back to Broadway at the same time there seems to be a perfect opportunity to film one or both of those productions, yes? Or, perhaps something else?
ALW: Oh, yes - it could be. I mean, I'd very much like to see SUNSET BOULEVARD done.
PC: Do you have any casting ideas in mind? I know you have mentioned Madonna as a potential Norma Desmond.
ALW: I like that idea. But, of course, Glenn Close is absolutely fantastic, so I would love to have it with her. We'll have to see what happens!
PC: And maybe Hugh Jackman as Joe? In any event, we all can't wait to see what's next! Thank you so very much for this today, Lord Andrew. This was an absolute thrill.
ALW: Thanks very much, Pat. My best to you. Bye bye.
From This Author Pat Cerasaro