Gillian Lynne Theatre, London
For a variety of reasons – billions in the bank, supporting the Conservative Party, having a series of attractive wives – Lord (Andrew) Lloyd-Webber has never lacked detractors in theatre and the media.
He has also suffered artistic derision. Admirers of Stephen Sondheim – with whom, weirdly, Lloyd Webber shares a 22 March birthday, though 18 years apart – often see the men as exemplary musical theatre opposites: the 91-year-old American a post-Schoenberg radical, the 73-year-old Englishman a sub-Puccini crowd-pleaser.
That argument exists regardless of recent revivals of Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita reminding us just how daring it was of Lloyd Webber and his lyricist Tim Rice, in 1971 and 1978, to write rock operas about, respectively, the Son of God and the Argentinian Fascist Eva Perón. Without Rice, Lloyd Webber has also musicalised the Northern Ireland Troubles (The Beautiful Game, 2000) and the Profumo political scandal (Stephen Ward, 2013). However, the longevity of his most mushily populist ’80s musicals – Cats and The Phantom of the Opera – have secured his reputation for too many as a lush sentimentalist.