Interview: Andrew Lloyd Webber on his past musicals and a new project centred on the Profumo Affair

Andrew Lloyd Webber is creating a musical about the Profumo Affair
Andrew Lloyd Webber is creating a musical about the Profumo Affair
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LORD Andrew Lloyd Webber talks Phantom and Superstar as well as telling entertainment editor Liam Rudden about his new musical, planned for 2014

The Lord is a busy man. When not fronting one of the many TV talent shows that have now provided a generation of musical theatre stars, he’s keeping track of the various productions of his works that constantly tour the globe.

Shows such as Phantom of the Opera, currently playing the Playhouse; Cats, which returns to the Capital next year; and the new arena tour of Jesus Christ Superstar, which boasts another reality star, Ben Forster, in the title role.

However, while audiences around the world enjoy the endeavours of his labour, Lord Lloyd Webber - “Call me Andrew,” he insists - is planning ahead, and just about to start work on his next musical, a piece championing the man charged with instigating the 1960’s political scandal that became known as The Profumo Affair.

First, a bit of background for those unfamiliar with the story. In 1963, John Profumo, Secretary of State for War, had an affair with Christine Keeler, the reputed mistress of an alleged Soviet spy. After lying about it in the House of Commons he was forced to resign.

But it’s another character in the proceedings that captured Andrew’s imagination.

“The new musical will be about Dr Stephen Ward, the most celebrated man in London, who ended up as a waxwork in Madame Tussaud’s Chambers of Horrors,” Andrew reveals .

“He was the man who was, wrongly in my view, convicted of pimping (although he committed suicide before the court could sentence him) because he introduced Keeler to Profumo.

“It’s a fascinating period of history because it is exactly at the time that everything is changing... I can just about remember it. I was about 13 and it was so big you couldn’t miss it.”

An osteopath and artist, Ward became notorious after bringing the married British cabinet minister and the showgirl together.

Following the Profumo scandal, he was charged with living off the profits of immoral earnings. He overdosed on sleeping tablets on the last day of his trial.

“People think of it as The Profumo Affair but I am much more interested in the character of Stephen Ward,” explains Andrew.

“It’s quite interesting how a whole series of little events led to people, even Hoover in America, thinking there was an international call-girl ring of spies, which is absolute nonsense.

“Of course, everyone had become so paranoid because it played out against the backdrop of the Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis and all that, so you kind of understand it.”

At an educated guess, the composer believes the piece could see the stage by Easter 2014 “if it works out and the writing goes well.”

“I’m going to give it a whirl,” he says, “but it wouldn’t be the first time that I’ve got quite a long way through a musical and found I couldn’t finish it because the story didn’t quite work.

“So I might find when I finally get to grips with it that what I think at the moment is a very good idea, isn’t. But I do think it is an incredibly strong story, especially as a lot of the key players are still alive.”

In the meantime, it’s another of his works that is thrilling audiences at the Playhouse, the 25th anniversary production of The Phantom of the Opera.

“I’m going to be completely honest. I really did not get that involved with this production,” he confesses.

“Cameron Mackintosh thought that if we were going to do another touring production of the Phantom it would be a good idea to have a new take on it.

“The original is a very difficult act to follow because it is one of the great theatre productions of all time

“I saw the model of the design and very much left it to the director to get on with. I just felt that I myself have to move on. You can’t forever be hovering over every single aspect of everything.”

Lloyd Webber is being a bit more hands on with the current arena tour of Jesus Christ Superstar, which saw Ben Forster cast in the title role on ITV earlier this year, and with very good reason.

“People in Britain always think of Jesus Christ Superstar as a musical - it wasn’t,” he explains.

“It started life as a rock album, and now it’s back where it should be, as a rock concert. I really just wanted to do an arena tour to show people what it is like when it is allowed to rock out a bit. It has always been slightly straight-jacketed in a theatre.”

The one thing all these productions have in common is that they feature performers drawn from the TV talent pool. Katie Hall, for example, who is playing Christine in Phantom at the Playhouse, first came to public attention in the BBC series I’d Do Anything, which set out to find an actress to play Nancy in Oliver!

“What happens as a consequence of these shows is that I get to see people who would just not get to me in the normal theatre audition process,” says Andrew.

“Now, no audition process is ever perfect, but what it does mean is that I do get to work with people, and it’s the working with that I enjoy, a whole load of young people I would not normally see.”

And live television, he admits, gives him a great buzz.

“I love it when it’s live,” he enthuses, “but I hate when it’s prerecorded, because everybody’s always asking you to do something again.

“On the live shows they can’t, and there’s incredible adrenaline. It’s an extraordinary buzz when suddenly there is 20 seconds to go and you are on live. I do enjoy that.”

And before he goes, Lloyd Webber has some good news for fans of Phantom - they’ll be able to see the sequel Love Never Dies on tour soon.

“The Australian production, which was wonderful - the London production wasn’t very good, the Australians got it right - is going out next year,” he reveals.

“The plan is, that will go on the road here, in the autumn of next year.”

• The Phantom of the Opera, The Playhouse, Greenside Place, until October 20, £19.50-£51.50, 7.30pm (matinees 2.30pm), 0844-871 3014