Andrew Lloyd Weber: Yay or Nay?
December 27, 2005 11:31 AM   Subscribe

Why do some people hate Andrew Lloyd Weber so much?

I recently caught the 2004 film version of The Phantom of the Opera on HBO. (Thought the movie was just okay.) After watching the film, I looked up several film critic reviews of the movie adaptation.

Almost every negative review of the film (and there were many) made some sort of mention of how awful Andrew Lloyd Weber stage productions were, including Phantom, and how he destroyed Broadway and London theater, pacts with the devil, and various other swipes at him and his productions.

Since I know nothing about him and his work (I've never seen any of his shows), can someone offer some background about this hatred? He obviously has many fans (or he wouldn't be so successful), so where does this backlash originate?
posted by jca to Media & Arts (50 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
snobs hate popular things.
posted by mcsweetie at 11:36 AM on December 27, 2005

Weber productions tend to be overly dramatic, sappy, and emotionally simplistic, at least compared to others.
posted by deadfather at 11:43 AM on December 27, 2005

At least in my opinion, he's way too heavy handed, also his stuff tends to show its age quite quickly(although I am a fan of Sondheim, about whom the same can be said). Basically though his shows are usually all glitz, and little substance, which doesn't necessarily make him "bad". I always felt that his musicals held little merit in being watched more than once, and his songs tend to be far too overbearing (particularly in the case of Phantom).

And yes, snobs hate popular things.
posted by KirTakat at 11:43 AM on December 27, 2005

First time I heard The Phantom of the Opera I immediately thought of "Echoes" by Pink Floyd. So did Roger Waters.

Andrew Lloyd Weber is like the Britney Spears of musical theater. I find his works mostly vapid, and lacking in complexity both in story and in musical composition. That is not to say, like Britney Spears, he has some catchy tunes. There's nothing bad about cats prancing around stage or pandering to Midwestern tourists, but critics dislike it. He doesn't try to challenge the audience but deliver to them what they like.

That said Andrew Lloyd Weber does have technical proficiency that puts him above Britney Spears. He's so widely panned, I find it to be somewhat knee-jerk. He can create a good melody, and it's not to say that his music is simple, it certainly can be complex. He's just a very easy target.
posted by geoff. at 11:44 AM on December 27, 2005

Because they see his commercial success as undeserved, and contributing to the decline of theater as an art form. You can find this phenomenon in other popular art forms, but since theater had already become something of a pleasure of the elite in the 20th century, I believe it is more pronounced than in film or music. But I believe it is the same sort of phenomenon as Britney Spears: she is undoubtably popular, yet nearly universally scorned by critics.

Have you seen many Weber productions, mcsweetie?
posted by mzurer at 11:46 AM on December 27, 2005

Or, what they said.
posted by mzurer at 11:47 AM on December 27, 2005

He's a cheeseball. And some of his stuff rips off better operatic riffs (and Pink Floyd, apparently), which I only noticed after listening to Lloyd Weber for years as a kid, then listening to Norma.

I still love Jesus Christ Superstar. I think it really puts his lack of subtlety and understatement to optimal use. It kind of chronicles the worst impulses of its era and medium. I don't know if that's the same as being "good," but it's an entertaining spectacle.
posted by Marnie at 11:49 AM on December 27, 2005

snobs hate popular things

I see it as being similar to how some critics tend to denigrate Andrew Wyeth and Norman Rockwell as "mere illustrators" and not "artists," despite their popularity with many Americans (e.g. Wyeth being considered the "Painter of the People.")
posted by ericb at 11:51 AM on December 27, 2005

he reminds people of paul mcartney.
posted by andrew cooke at 11:54 AM on December 27, 2005

There are also economic factors to consider. The staggering financial success of Lloyd Weber's stuff has tended to make it difficult to do things that aren't in some sense just like it. So there's some resentment on the part of people who'd like to be able to do things that are a little bit different.

I remember reading somewhere that he'd effectively driven an abandonment of the middle: That you could only do fairly cheap or fairly expensive productions, now.
posted by lodurr at 11:54 AM on December 27, 2005

I was going to say he reminds people of Billy Joel. Who also has a highly successful musical (medley) on Broadway. But maybe just in New York.
posted by Marnie at 11:58 AM on December 27, 2005

I strongly dislike his music, and thus have never gone to see any of his shows. I am a bit of a snob when it comes to music, but in this case I do not hate his music because it is popular (although its popularity vexes me inasmuch as I am thereby unable to avoid it as completely as I would like). He is rich and successful beyond most critics’ dreams, and it could be this irks them, or that they feel his shows’ popularity has somehow discouraged variety and innovation in musical theatre (or what lodurr said). And he can seem to communicate a certain self-satisfied middlebrow smugness which I (and presemably some of the critics) also dislike.
posted by misteraitch at 11:58 AM on December 27, 2005

expanding a little; the early, good stuff was with tim rice who, you might argue, was the lennon. lw's later stuff hasn't had the same intelligence.

i'm not sure the comparison with billy joel is fair - there's the whole class thing. if that matters to you.
posted by andrew cooke at 12:05 PM on December 27, 2005

It's interesting someone cited Britney Spears as a comparison -- Spears hasn't had a successful pop song and/or album in years. (Her record sales have tanked.) She's now just a popular "celebrity" -- no longer a charting "pop singer".

Is this what has also become of Andrew Lloyd Weber? The celebrity riding past accomplishments?
posted by jca at 12:09 PM on December 27, 2005

I've always found his stuff to be really base, simple, just really uninteresting. What's been said above basically covers it.
posted by zerolives at 12:10 PM on December 27, 2005

Britney's now just a popular "celebrity" -- no longer a charting "pop singer".

What world are you from? Her album sales are nothing like they used to be, but her last LP's lead single, "Toxic", was an international number 1, and "My Prerogative", the single from her greatest hits record, was top 40 almost everywhere.
posted by Marquis at 12:15 PM on December 27, 2005

Hands up all those who realize his last name is spelled "Webber." No? Hands up all those who realize he's been knighted. Hmm.

Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber is bashed because he's popular, he's derivative, he's gimmicky, and he's dominated the field for a long time.

Popular: Are you willing to join with the peons who mawkishly hug each other during "All I Ask of You," or are you way too cool to like anything vaguely popular?

Derivative: Do you think he uses snatches of other works to inspire certain feelings or to refer to the original works and add another layer of meaning, or do you think he does it because he can't come up with anything himself?

Gimmicky: Do you think people on roller skates representing trains are innovative and cool, or idiotic one-trick ponies? Ditto for people pretending to be cats. Ditto for obscure Argentine politicians interacting with an Everyman who may or may not be Che Guevara. Ditto for musical-izing obscure sentimentalist novels.

Dominant: Do you think he's been the one strong British influence who's successful enough to bring his shows to Broadway, or do you think he caught onto a cash cow and is milking it for all it's worth while pushing away lesser talents?

Whether or not you like him now, you have to admit that at his start he was extremely innovative -- I didn't realize how much until recently. Check out some of his shows with an open mind, and realize that the 2004 movie was a very bad implementation of a musical that is actually not very bad when correctly done.
posted by booksandlibretti at 12:25 PM on December 27, 2005

Yeah, "dominating the field" wasn't quite what I meant. I'm not ignoring Sondheim by any means, but Lloyd Webber has been a huge player up until recently (Whistle Down the Wind, The Beautiful Game) while IIRC, Sondheim -- as much of a legend as he is, too -- has had several flops in the middle of his career.
posted by booksandlibretti at 12:27 PM on December 27, 2005

Sorry, Marquis, wasn't trying to slight Britney. But yes, apparently I do live in a world not recognizing her "current accomplishments".

Her greatest hits album was, as you say, nothing like her previous releases in sales, and her last CD (a remix album?) "debuted at number 134 in the U.S. and sold less than 15,000 copies in its first week of release."

Are you seriously going to argue that her current incarnation and exposure in the press has more to do with her recent music than her status as a "celebrity"? It's not like "Toxic" is in heavy rotation anywhere, yet we still hear/read about her and "Cletus" every day, no?

I'm simply asking has LW reached the same status where his celebrity outweighs his most recent work?
posted by jca at 12:28 PM on December 27, 2005

Everyone I know who enjoys his stuff has little to compare it to as they don't get to the theatre for anything but extravaganzas like his.

He's the Joss Whedon of the stage. :)
posted by dobbs at 12:32 PM on December 27, 2005

As a musician, I find Weber's music impossible to listen to. Good show music "goes somewhere." That is, the phrases are easy to sing and have a beginning, middle and end.

Most important, they can be remembered. Hear "Some Enchanted Evening" or "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" once and you know it forever.

To me, Weber writes in a musical monotone. The phrases start, but then stall. He has mannerisms that he uses over and over, and each of them leaves you thinking "so what?" I've heard lots of his stuff, but I can't remember a note of it.
posted by KRS at 12:38 PM on December 27, 2005

In my experience, for the same reason people dislike Shania Twain or Celine Dion: he's musically trite. All three of them are wildly popular, but that's likely because most people don't recognize or understand the complexity or nuance of music the way critics supposedly do, or the way famous composers of old did. The theatre-going public only knows what it likes, which means things they can understand, and that's what Webber writes. Previous references in this thread to Britney are appropriate. Webber is the pop star of theatre music: shallow, bland and immensely rich, none of which have any bearing on actual talent.
posted by BorgLove at 12:38 PM on December 27, 2005

There are two of his shows I like very very much: Jesus Christ Superstar, and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. The rest I find, as others have said, overly dramatic, very overproduced, repetitious, etc. He went in a direction I just didn't care for.
posted by JanetLand at 12:45 PM on December 27, 2005

Played more Webber than I care to admit. (Cruise ship musician days.) But few of these tunes are really that memorable. (On preview, what KRS said.)

Shop talk: It's that mawkish overuse of that descending-third, I-VI-IV progression. Or even worse, that I-flatVI that happens all the time in Phantom, among others. Oh, how I long for the five, please give me the five, tease me with the five. No V for you!

Also, modulating up a half or whole step to build suspense is boring, boring, boring. Wow, it's the whole tune all over again, except in another key! And the generic rock backbeat! Why, why, why?! I imagine the guy writing a tune and saying to himself, "How about adding a generic rock backbeat? The kids'll love that!" I could add more, but I am already trembling uncontrollably.

dobbs: Take back what you said about Joss Whedon, or I will go to your house and soundly box you about the head and shoulders.
posted by Scooter at 12:46 PM on December 27, 2005

KRS - exactly!
In my book, musical theater should (in reverse order) entertain, have great sets/costumes, and have hummable/memorable songs.
Musical theater (not opera) is not exactly high-brow entertainment, but what use is it if the viewer can't even hum one song on the way home? The classics of this genre have many "hummables" - Oklahoma: Title song, Oh What a Beautiful Morning; My Fair Lady: On the Street Where You Live; Sound of Music: Bali Hai, Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair; The King and I: Shall We Dance?: Sound of Music: Climb Every Mountain, Do a Deer, You Are Sixteen; Fantastiks: Send in the Clowns; etc.
Sir ALW just doesn't produce such music - or when he does, it seems almost by accident - and thus he fails my own personal test for "greatness" in musical theater.
posted by dbmcd at 12:49 PM on December 27, 2005

Weber had a couple of legitimately "great" works- Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita. Neither will ever be confused with Mozart, but I think they rank comparable to good Gilbert & Sullivan.

Then he did Cats.

Weber was always a proponent of spectacle, but I think it's that moment when he tipped the balance of his work toward more spectacle at the expense of musical artistry.
posted by mkultra at 12:59 PM on December 27, 2005

I can't remember: had Ben Elton started sucking before he wrote the book for By Jeeves! or was that the point where he turned evil? Because that's something else we could lay at Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber's feet.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 1:07 PM on December 27, 2005

And on knighthoods: Michael Tippet got one. Frederick Delius didn't.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 1:08 PM on December 27, 2005

[further comment on knighthoods and americans who insist on being impressed by stupid english ideas even after winning a damn revolution deleted after checking user's home page and not wanting to destroy motivation for academic career...]
posted by andrew cooke at 1:23 PM on December 27, 2005

Me, andrew cooke? I don't worship knights or whatever; in this case, I just figure if we're going to start bashing him, we may as well get his name/title right. I feel the same about posts saying how much we oughtta respect Terry Shaivo.
posted by booksandlibretti at 1:28 PM on December 27, 2005

A friend of mine felt that one of Weber's chief sins was turning T.S. Eliot's poem "Rhapsody on a Windy Night," which ends with the brutal and dark "The last twist of the knife," into the song "Memory" (for the musical Cats) which ends, instead, with the much more tourist-friendly "Look, a new day has begun."
posted by Clay201 at 1:30 PM on December 27, 2005

He's the Joss Whedon of the stage.

No. That'd be the late Jonathan Larson. Or maybe Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx.
posted by grabbingsand at 1:32 PM on December 27, 2005

[terry schiavo was knighted?! or are you saying that she should have been called Mrs terry schiavo?]
posted by andrew cooke at 1:35 PM on December 27, 2005

For me, the synthesizer bass in Phantom says it all. Yuck.

Ear of the beholder, though, I guess.
posted by JekPorkins at 1:43 PM on December 27, 2005

Take back what you said about Joss Whedon, or I will go to your house and soundly box you about the head and shoulders.

It only bothers you because it's true.
posted by dobbs at 1:50 PM on December 27, 2005

Sorry, I guess I'm being unclear. I just feel that if someone's important enough to be the main topic of a conversation, he or she is important enough to be referred to by the right name -- this means spelling Terri Schiavo's name correctly, and recognizing Lloyd Webber's title as well as the correct spelling.

And it's worth noting that my original comment wasn't "He's a knight; he must be awesome!" The correction was supposed to be a throwaway remark before the main meat of my comment.

posted by booksandlibretti at 2:01 PM on December 27, 2005

I'm a big showtunes lover, and agree with much of what has been said above. His music is cliche, and the lyrics tend to not really say anything. Of course, most of his shows aren't really about anything- who knew someone could write a show about cats?? Not me.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 2:08 PM on December 27, 2005 [1 favorite]

i know; i was teasing. my oblique, and not very important point was - why is a title like "sir" more important than a title like "mrs"? doesn't your preference for the former imply that you are, indeed, impressed by these things? just a little bit? go on, you can admit it. no-one reads these texts in small type...
posted by andrew cooke at 2:22 PM on December 27, 2005

I think mkultra has a point: Webber's early work — Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita — is actually pretty good. I like it. Especially JCS. But a lot of his later stuff is saccharine sweet. Sunset Boulevard has its moments, but even it gets sappy. I think Webber lost a lot when Tim Rice moved on to other things...
posted by jdroth at 2:37 PM on December 27, 2005

Neh, I dunno, I've loved Webber for years...some stuff more than others. And I have frequently been able to hum his stuff after hearing it the first time. I think I have fairly sophisticated musical tastes -- I grew up on Rogers and Hammerstein. Lerner & Lowe, Irving Berlin, and classical music; I adore opera, and enjoy a great deal more of musical theatre than most Americans outside of NYC are aware even exists. Yet I still get excited by at least a subset of Webber's stuff -- JCS, Evita, Joseph, for sure, but Cats and Phantom as well. Criticism of Webber over the years has made me wonder if I'm a rube or simply have no taste, but then I figure...who cares? I like what I like. His music has, at least at certain points in my life, made me happy. Who can argue with that?
posted by lhauser at 2:59 PM on December 27, 2005

dobbs, I love you.

That's all I really wanted to say, but to keep this on-topic, I'll link to Why does everyone hate Andrew Lloyd Webber?
posted by amarynth at 3:01 PM on December 27, 2005

His music has, at least at certain points in my life, made me happy. Who can argue with that?

Accepted as a mature artform, musicals/operettas have a set of accept aesthetic criteria. The fact that Webber appeals to the uncouth visceral pleasures by his overused riffs and simplistic stories don't convey the subtle nuances of the artform. Someone whose only exposure to Broadway is Webber when they visit NYC will not see that, critics and lovers of musicals will. I too liked "Masquerade" as I did at one time like "Come Sail Away". That does not mean either are good.
posted by geoff. at 4:10 PM on December 27, 2005

Whoa, spoonerism. Except as a mature artform ... a set of accepted aesthetic criteria.
posted by geoff. at 4:11 PM on December 27, 2005

"Hands up all those who realize he's been knighted?"

And hands up all those who realise he's been made a Peer of the Realm and is known as Baron Lloyd-Webber?

Me, I can't stand him, but then my tastes in music were frozen in about 1975.
posted by essexjan at 4:19 PM on December 27, 2005

Ouch, dobbs, you wound me; you savage His Jossiness; what can be done!?

Are you crackin' on Joss because of television stuff or because of Serenity or for other reasons? I'm really interested to know, because my . . . um . . . obsession? with his work in the last couple of years puzzles me, and your writing on film stuff throughout MeFi often seems on the mark, so I'm hoping if you say something like, "Whedon's a third-rate writer whose talent strikes a chord among a cult audience instead of a popular audience, something like a pipsqueak Spielberg," maybe I'll agree with you and the spell he's put me under since July 2004 will be broken.

But honestly, it probably won't be, because I like "Masquerade / Paper faces on parade / Let the spectacle astound you," too. I may be a hopeless case.
posted by cgc373 at 10:14 PM on December 27, 2005

Not everyone in New York would pay to see Andrew Lloyd Webber. May his trousers fall down as he bows to the Queen and the Crown. I don't what tune that the orchestra played, but it went by me sickly sentimental -- Crowded House, "Chocolate Cake"
posted by OneOliveShort at 5:10 AM on December 28, 2005

He aims at cheap emotion. Commercially, never a bad strategy. His problem is, he's more obvious about it than some.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:34 AM on December 28, 2005

Joss Whedon has more talent and imagination in his left pinky than Webber ever did.

Sound of Music: Bali Hai, Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair...Fantastiks: Send in the Clowns

A bit of a nitpick, but "Bali Hai" and "Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair" are from South Pacific, and "Send in the Clowns" is from Company.
posted by mkultra at 7:04 AM on December 28, 2005

And hands up all those who realise he's been made a Peer of the Realm and is known as Baron Lloyd-Webber?

Not me, essexjan; thanks. I haven't kept up with his newer stuff.

andrew cooke, not to derail anymore than I have been, but being knighted is still, I think, a fairly important signifier. It doesn't mean (to me) "Grand Poobah likes him, therefore he must be good"; it means "this guy has a lot of land, or money, or powerful friends/fans." They're still pretty important, whereas modern marriage in the US (usual disclaimers) isn't such an important social marker, I don't think.

Also, it's nice to give a subject's correct name at least once in any discussion about him -- I mean, how else can he have fun Googling for himself?

posted by booksandlibretti at 7:02 PM on December 28, 2005

I still love Jesus Christ Superstar.

As do I -- along with his other collaboration with Tim Rice -- 'Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.'

These were their first co-productions -- 'Joseph' (1968) and 'JCS' (1970) -- when Webber was 20/22 y.o. and Rice, 24/26 y.o.
posted by ericb at 9:13 PM on December 28, 2005

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