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Andrew Lloyd Webber, theater manager risks prison


“Come hell or high water. . . he said. Andrew Lloyd Webber, the British composer and theater manager who made his name and fortune with musicals such as Cats, Avoid and Starlight Express, this week expressed its determination to open its West End theaters to full capacity this month – regardless of current government guidelines on Covid-19.

Previews for his latest creation, Cinderella, are scheduled to begin on June 25, just days after the planned easing of coronavirus restrictions on June 21. That date now appears to be in question due to rising infection rates, but Lloyd Webber has said he would be prepared to face jail time regardless of any further delay.

Despite being named a Conservative peer, he says he won’t hesitate to launch a legal battle against the government if there are any more delays, telling an interviewer he has “the mother of all. legal cases ”.

At 73, Lloyd Webber is perhaps the most decorated composer in the world. The New York Times described him in 2001 as “the most commercially successful composer in history”, with several awards for his musicals and worldwide success. He is one of 16 people to have won an Oscar, an Emmy, a Tony and a Grammy. His productions, all managed by the Really Useful Group, which he founded in 1977, have a string of records: Starlight Express (1984) raced in London for over 17 years; The Phantom of the Opera (1986) was the longest-running Broadway show of all time.

Lloyd Webber had planned to open Cinderella at the Gillian Lynne Theater (formerly the New London Theater, renamed in memory of the late choreographer of Cats) in August 2020. As the owner of seven theaters, throughout the pandemic he has been a vocal opponent of regulations that have forced theaters to close for long periods of time. They are currently allowed to operate with reduced numbers, but Lloyd Webber argues that large-scale productions like his musicals are not sustainable without houses at full capacity.

Campaigners for the reopening point to the economic weight of the UK theater sector, which brought in nearly £ 1.28 billion in ticket sales to more than 34 million people in 2018. They also highlight the plight of the abundant labor force in the sector, which is for the most part self-sufficient. – employees and therefore particularly vulnerable to the closure of theaters. Insiders fear a skill drain, as well as individual difficulties. Lloyd Webber, who requested additional grants, pointed to inconsistencies in policies that allow people to sit on a plane for many hours but not sit in a theater for two hours.

It also emphasizes security measures in cinemas. In September 2020, he said in a government hearing that he was “absolutely convinced that the air in the London Palladium and all of my theaters is cleaner than the air outside”.

Around £ 6million has been invested in Cinderella, and its ensemble of 34 comedians, dancers, musicians and others comes at enormous costs. Losses from keeping his cinemas in darkness during their extended shutdown are around £ 1million a month, and he has suggested further delays will force him to sell them or shut them down permanently. According to The Sunday Times Rich List, Lloyd Webber’s personal wealth has fallen from £ 275million in one year and now stands at £ 525million, although other sources have dramatically increased his net worth.

Throughout his career, Lloyd Webber has faced controversy, including allegations of plagiarism from sources as disparate as the Puccini estate and Pink Floyd. But its overall originality is rarely questioned. Don Black, 1989 co-lyricist Aspects of love, asserted that “Andrew more or less single-handedly reinvented the musical”.

Born in 1948 into a family of musicians – his mother was a violinist and pianist, his father a composer, his brother is the famous cellist Julian Lloyd Webber – his talent manifested itself very early on. Professional success started with Joseph and the incredible Technicolor dream coat in 1968, when he was not yet 21; Cinderella will be his 17th fully produced musical.

Many of his early successes were in partnership with lyricist Tim Rice, but he worked with various writers. For Cinderella he chose Emerald Fennell, a multi-talented BBC screenwriter Kill Eve who won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay this year for his comedy Promising young woman, which she also realized.

Lloyd Webber is an enthusiastic art collector, with a taste for Pre-Raphaelite and Victorian painters, including Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones, and others. Its collection – large enough to fill all the main halls of the Royal Academy in London when it was exhibited there in 2003 – helped restore the reputation (and raise prices) of the previously old-fashioned genre. One expert, Christopher Wood, wrote of Lloyd Webber’s passion for art: “Andrew is often said to write musicals to collect more paintings. . . Collecting is his real obsession.

Other interests include substantial charitable work for his own Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation, as well as other educational and cultural organizations. He was knighted in 1992 and in 1997 he was made a lifetime peer as Baron Lloyd Webber of Sydmonton, although he retired from the House of Lords in 2017.

The next week or so could determine whether or not Cinderella goes to the ball – and if its distinguished creator is on the wrong side of the law.

jan.dalley@ft.com

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