Unmasked: A Memoir by Andrew Lloyd Webber
For those with a penchant for musical theatre, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber is a household name. The English composer extraordinaire is, after all, the award-winning genius behind the stellar theatrical and cinematic masterpieces The Phantom of the Opera, Cats, Joseph and the Technicolour Dreamcoat, Jesus Christ Superstar, By Jeeves, Evita, School of Rock, and Sunset Boulevard. From composing educational music to Broadway hits, Webber’s creative journey has got to be one of the most inspirational of our time. This wonderfully-titled memoir, like a certain old chandelier in the Grand Paris Opera House, reveals all.
Webber describes his childhood, education, his early start to a lifetime career, his partnership with the famed lyricist Tim Rice, his influences, the risks and rewards of show business, and the concomitant struggles of balancing work and family life. His writing style is quirky and warmly genuine with a plethora of humorous and moving anecdotes. The art of musical theatre, Webber concludes, is a lifelong lesson.
Successful musicals are rare gems with multiple facets: story; music; lyrics; set design; choreography; direction; and casting. Composers work alongside writers, musicians, playwrights, producers, their own families, friends, and fans. These vibrant networks are sustained by a thirst for creation and spectacle.
It is without doubt that Webber’s strength lies in his undying passion for arts and culture, fuelled by his openness to the fountains of inspiration in the world around him. Webber writes that ever since he was young, three main interests moulded his life: art; musical theatre; and architecture. His intelligence, attention to aesthetic particulars, and deep fascination with buildings, history, and musical and artistic styles is clear in his work.
What interests me most of all (and all readers for that matter) is how Webber was inspired by literature, which he graciously brought to life on the stage. The Phantom of the Opera, a high-grossing musical currently on Broadway, was inspired by a fifty-cent copy of Gaston Leroux’s novel that Webber purchased one day at a bookstall on Fifth Avenue. Webber’s fondness for the classic works of P.G. Wodehouse and T.S. Eliot brought about By Jeeves and Cats respectively, the latter also a successful show on Broadway.
Webber continues to reach out to the world beyond musical composition. A devotee of the arts, he owns seven West End theatres in London along with the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation, a charity dedicated to music and the arts. While Webber’s autobiography is ideal for anyone pursuing a profession in the arts, it is also a motivational read in itself. In Unmasked, Webber affirms that anything is possible through hard work, a little risk-taking, and faith.
Reviewer: Azariah Alfante
Publisher: HarperCollins, RRP: $39.99