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The Journal Gazette

Tuesday, March 06, 2018 1:00 am

Autobiography not about to be Webber's last work

MARK KENNEDY | Associated Press

NEW YORK – Andrew Lloyd Webber's 70th birthday is coming up and it turns out there is something the composer really wants on his special day. More work.

The man behind such blockbuster shows as “Cats,” ''The Phantom of the Opera” and “School of Rock” has shows in London, Broadway and on tour, but he'd like to be composing another one.

“The biggest birthday present to me would be to know that I've found another subject. Genuinely, that's what I would most want for my 70th birthday: To know I'm writing,” he said.

Lloyd Webber may actually be close to another musical subject but doesn't want to jinx it by revealing details. “Knowing me, I'll find some speed bump along the line,” he said.

It's typical of this restless, self-described perfectionist that he's looking forward as his past is being celebrated.

His autobiography, “Unmasked,” is being released today , along with a massive, four-CD collection of his songs, performed by the likes of Barbra Streisand, Lana Del Rey and Madonna. NBC plans a primetime tribute March 28.

The Lloyd Webber-mania also includes an upcoming live televised NBC version of “Jesus Christ Superstar” starring John Legend and Sara Bareilles, and a new musical featuring his songs at the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey in September. He was the subject of a Grammy Awards tribute, and winter Olympic fans would have noticed Lloyd Webber soundtracks for several skaters.

The book, which he jokingly refers to as a “medium sized doorstop,” covers the years from his birth to the birth of “The Phantom of the Opera.”

“I just hope it shows a little more about me to people who perhaps don't know me,” he said. “I just hope I've told some of the funniest stories and they're not too boring for people.”

Readers will learn how close he was to being cast as Mozart in the Oscar-winning film “Amadeus,” the time he scribbled the title song in “Jesus Christ Superstar” on a paper napkin, how Judy Garland inspired “Don't Cry for Me Argentina” and the moment he accidentally exploded Champagne all over Barbra Streisand's hors d'oeuvres.

One of the book's most fascinating sections involves the troubled creation of “Cats,” which became a global phenomenon.

The show was his first without lyricist Tim Rice, with whom he's had success with “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” and “Evita.” He was working with a then-unknown producer in Mackintosh and a director who'd never done a musical. Lyrics came from a dead poet, T.S. Eliot. The musical director resigned after having a nervous breakdown.

“We were asking people to believe that human beings were cats,” Lloyd Webber said. “There was not one ingredient that anybody could see was anything other than a recipe for the worst disaster that had ever happened in the history of musical theater.”

 The CD collection of 71 songs proves Lloyd Webber's range, including tunes performed by everyone from Donny Osmond to Beyonce.

“I'm rather unfashionable now because I'm not sure that melody is as fashionable as it was,” he says. “What I do is melody and I still believe there's a place for that.”