The composer and theatre owner is increasingly leading the way in getting theatres back open, says The Stage editor Alistair Smith – praise should be given where it is due
Andrew Lloyd Webber can be a divisive figure. Perhaps it is the snob factor of people who look down on his achievements in musical theatre as ‘too commercial’ or perhaps it is due to his politics, but he has never been universally embraced by an industry in which a large percentage of people are left-wing and value ‘high art’ over popular entertainment.
And, indeed, over the years this publication has not always seen eye to eye with him. We’ve not always rated his musicals and, prior to recent lavish refurbishments, we were highly critical of the condition of some of his West End theatres. He, in turn, has not always liked what we have written – and has sometimes made that clear.
All this is perfectly natural and healthy when it comes to a leading player and an industry publication. But the flip side is that we should also be free and generous in our praise as and when we believe it to be deserved.
And it is certainly deserved now.
Many in British theatre have worked tirelessly to serve their communities during the coronavirus pandemic. This is true of people across the UK reaching out to their communities with innovative approaches to theatre and in ways that go beyond live performance. It is also true of those who have, for example, taken up front-line jobs in the NHS or worked in supermarkets at the height of the pandemic. Everyone who has made a difference deserves our thanks.
Not everyone in his position would do – or has done – the same
Lloyd Webber should feature prominently in this list. If theatre emerges from the current crisis in anything like the condition it entered it, he will have played a leading role in making that happen. In fact, he will have played the leading role in making that happen.
It has become clear – for whatever reason – that the government reacts when Lloyd Webber makes an intervention. He appears to be the only person truly capable of moving the needle when it comes to forcing the government’s hand to seriously consider the reopening of theatres.
Yes, on a personal level, Lloyd Webber is cushioned from many of the effects of the current crisis by the wealth he has accumulated. He has done very well out of theatre. But, he seems to fully realise this and is now reinvesting significant amounts into a concerted effort to save an industry that he clearly loves and feels indebted to. Not everyone in his position would do – or has done – the same.
You do not have to like his music or agree with his politics to recognise that a 72-year old, who has nothing left to achieve or prove, and could be sat sipping cocktails in Barbados right now, is fighting tirelessly for the future of the art form he loves.
All power to his elbow.