In his memoir "Unmasked," Broadway legend Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber divulges into his life and career with a surprising amount of detail and humor. I wouldn't call myself an Lloyd Webber aficionado, but his shows were the gateway through which I garnered my love for musicals. Most of my knowledge of his productions still comes from when I was 12 or 13 years old, memorizing the colors of Joseph’s coat. (It was being learning and obsessing over Cats and Joseph… that I found my love for Into the Woods and Rent.)
Therefore, I was intrigued to read Lloyd Webber’s recently published memoir to see if I would learn any more about these musicals that helped form me as a theatre lover. While the book unfortunately only chronicles his childhood through the West End opening of The Phantom of the Opera, I found it an engaging page-turner. As an advocate for Broadway ensemble actors, there were tidbits of revelations spread throughout the book that made me feel like a Cats-obsessed middle schooler again.
For example, many of ALW’s have premiered at his Sydmonton Festival, an arts festival presented each summer in a 16th Century chapel on his country estate. Shows that began here include Evita, Cats, Sunset Boulevard and Love Never Dies. However, one little-known fact is that when he debuted the first act of The Phantom of the Opera at Sydmonton, he “pillaged” the cast of the RSC’s Les Miserables to perform the show, including the original Grantaire, Clive Carter, as Raoul, and the original Enjolras, David Burt, as M. Firmin. That presentation also featured Myra Sands, the original Jennyanydots from Cats as Carlotta. You can watch this moments from this performance on YouTube.
Speaking of Jennyanydots and Cats, Trevor Nunn’s original concept for Cats was that the actors playing principal roles all doubled parts. Originally, Judi Dench played both Grizabella and Jennyanydots, before snapping her achilles tendon while rehearsing “The Old Gumbie Cats.” It wasn’t until this point that Jennyanydots became its own ensemble feature, giving us tap performances by ensemblists like Anna McNally and Sharon Wheatley in the original Broadway production and both Eloise Kropp and Sarah Marie Jenkins in the show’s recent Broadway revival.
Cats was not the only ALW show that was meant to feature actors doubling roles. During the casting of the original London production of Evita, there was concern that one actor would be able to perform the show for eight performances a week. One of director Harold Prince’s original concepts was to have three actors play Eva every night. While Webber and lyricist Tim Rice were against the idea, the is one moment in the original staging that harkens back to this concept:
“The is one small footnote to the three girl Evita concept. If ever you can catch Hal’s production there is the tiniest vestige left over. At the end of the funeral… three girls emerge from the crowd and sing “Don’t Cry for Me.” One is the actress who will play, the other two disappear, their raison d’etre never explained. It is a staging moment Hal obviously couldn’t let go.”