Monday, September 18, 2006

How do you solve a problem like Lloyd Webber?

My bottom drawer contains two musicals. One is an epic concerning the valiant struggle between Saladin and Richard the Lionheart for Jerusalem. Although tame and scrupulously fair-minded, it would probably earn me a fatwah today. The other is a charming adaptation of a story by Charles Dickens. I wrote them a long time ago. Every now and then I drag them out and congratulate myself on how clever I am really and wonder why I could never get anyone interested. These thoughts inevitably lead to contemplating the mystery of why Andrew Lloyd Webber remains the only known British composer of musical theatre.

I know two really good Andrew Lloyd Webber jokes only one of which I can remember. Perhaps the other will occur to me in the next half hour while I’m writing this. The first is not actually a joke. (This isn’t going very well). It’s one of Graham Rawle’s Lost Consonant series of cartoons entitled ‘Andrew Lloyd Webber writing another hit musical.’

Last night I watched the final of How do you solve a problem like Maria, yet another reality concoction, this time to locate a newcomer to play Maria Von Trapp in the West End after Scarlett Johansson pulled out. She may have had a reality moment herself recalling a similar epiphany that blessed Roger Moore a few years ago. Taking a comfort break from her entourage of sycophants, she may have had a glance over her CV and discovered that singing wasn’t actually on it.

Although no way as painful as peering through splayed fingers at the deluded campers over on the X Factor there is still something quite pitiful about the voting culture that has come to dominate the world of entertainment. Musicals require serious skills. At least most of the women who made it through to the televised sing-offs had musical theatre training.

One time Lloyd Webber producer Trevor Nunn was equally unimpressed and had a pop at the tactic in The Times last month,

‘I think that what these reality programmes more or less rely on is the viewing public being witness to distress.’

Television talent shows are not new. They seemed to dominate Saturday schedules a couple of decades ago and were much, much worse then because they included ventriloquists (who often won), plate spinners and toothless spoon players dressed in pearly king costumes.

Is there no other way for people who can act, sing and dance to be matched to vacancies on the London stage? Why is it necessary to involve the entire country in the search for someone to play a part in a theatre production? What are agents all doing, playing golf with each other?

Andrew Lloyd Webber is the greatest single argument for bringing back Spitting Image. They wouldn’t even need a puppet. He could play his own puppet. His legs look like they are loosely filled with kapok. Has anyone seen him standing up lately? And that face with its unashamed googly eyes for anything in a skirt, looking like it’s been slashed with a knife and repaired with Sellotape. The show’s eventual winner, call centre drone Connie Fisher, quipped ‘I hope I don’t have to marry Andrew Lloyd Webber if I win.’ Sorry dear, did you not read the small print?

As much as he may himself believe he actually wrote The Sound of Music, Lloyd Webber is merely the producer of this revival. It is the last musical written by Rodgers and Hammerstein whose unmatched repertoire set the gold standard for musical theatre. There is no reference to R&H on the official BBC How do you solve a problem like Maria website. None.

The other Lloyd Webber joke escapes me which is a pity because it was really funny. Maybe this should end on a sour note because, after a century of sophisticated musical theatre, this event brings us unceremoniously back to doh.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Was it this one?

"I was working in Burger King when Andrew Lloyd Webber rushed in and said, 'Give me two Whoppers.'

"I said, 'You're good-looking and your musicals are great.'"