Saturday, March 13, 2004

Andrew Lloyd Webber: Like bacon, I don't really get it

All I want is freedom,
a world with no more night...
and you,
always beside me,
to hold me
and to hide me...

All of my life I have taken the existence of Andrew Lloyd Webber and his widely beloved musicals like Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Cats, Jesus Christ Superstar (Andy, he loves the religious musical epics), and of course The Phantom of the Opera for granted. At the age that I was beginning to acclimate myself to culture and the arts, Joseph--a piece of anti-culture if there ever was one--was a big hit on the Chicago stage. Donny Osmond, who starred as Joseph even lived in my town with is family while he was in the play, and everyone was going to see it.

Now my family is the anti-Andrew Lloyd Webber family. I think that is a great way to describe us in fact. Webber is the embodiment of popular culture: his plays are visual feasts--light spectaculars and high technology sets, and he takes stuff from the Bible fercryinoutlod and adapts it to musicals, and not subdued musicals, no, musicals with intense costumes and lights and melodrama and lots and lots of singing. So these audience-grabbing plays may appeal to the masses nationwide--Cats for example is the longest running musical both on Broadway and on tour--but my family never really liked mass culture-sanctioned works. We were out seeing Gilbert & Sullivan operettas, and as I've explained earlier, I was more of a Rodgers and Hammerstein girl. I lived my life deprived of any firsthand Andrew Lloyd Webber Experience (hey doesn't that sound like a title of one of his musicals?). I got a taste of the music from Phantom and Joseph through various channels, and it sounded very good. Based on all of his plays' popular appeal, I was essentially under the impression that Andrew Lloyd Webber was a genius and his work was ordained by god, at least in the sense that it would be an incomplete world if Cats and Phantom did not exist.

So finally last night, I partook, for the first time, in a viewing of an Andrew Lloyd Webber masterpiece: The Phantom of the Opera. It was everything I expected and more: I mean holy lord there was a freaking SYNTHESIZER!! When the haunted chandelier fell (oooh sppooookyyy), the "Phantom of the Opera" music started playing with synthesizer flourishes. The play itself is an incredibly wacky idea, and I guess it is based on a book so we cannot totally blame Lloyd Webber: set in a Paris opera house (Paris had opera? cool.) Phantom tells the story of a magnificent opera singer named Christine DaaƩ whose beautiful voice is the product of secret singing lessons from a Phantom who lives in the depths of the opera house. When wealthy opera patron Raoul (Raoul!? wtf?! that's not a French name!!) declares his love to Christine on the rooftop with the Paris skyline as a backdrop (how romantic) the Phantom overhears and goes wild. Anyway, the tiny problem of having a Phantom haunting an opera house gets a little out of control in the play's second act. Of course it all ends well, but the inquisitive audience member is left lingering on a certain thought: what the hell just happened here? A play about a man with a half-white mask who haunts the opera with his doctrine of fear while imbuing the love of his life with an irreclicably beautiful voice. All set to the tone of a synthesizer. And Americans love this shit. Only Andrew Lloyd Webber.

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