I'm a Complete Quality Control Freak; So Says Andrew Lloyd Webber as He Puts the Cardiff Cast of the Sound of Music through Their Paces. Arts Correspondent Karen Price Is Granted a Rare Audience with the King of Musical Theatre

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), August 1, 2009 | Go to article overview

I'm a Complete Quality Control Freak; So Says Andrew Lloyd Webber as He Puts the Cardiff Cast of the Sound of Music through Their Paces. Arts Correspondent Karen Price Is Granted a Rare Audience with the King of Musical Theatre


IT'S late in the afternoon and Andrew Lloyd Webber is deep in concentration. The king of musical theatre is standing behind the orchestra pit at the Wales Millennium Centre during last-minute sound checks for the new touring version of The Sound of Music.

As a casually-dressed Connie Fisher and her co-star Michael Praed stand on stage singing the chorus of their duet Something Good, the Lord, as Andrew is affectionately known, clearly isn't happy about the sound.

"It's just not right is it?" he says to the musical director. "It should be..." And then he cuts off to hum a little.

Watching Andrew at work, you know you are in the company of a hugely-respected master of his game.

Despite the fact he's responsible for penning the music to some of the biggest productions ever staged - The Phantom of the Opera, Evita and Cats are just the tip of the iceberg - and amassed a clutch of major gongs, from Tonys and Grammys to an Oscar, Andrew isn't locked away in his ivory tower. Instead he's very much a hands-on impresario.

"I'm a complete quality control freak," he tells me when I later join him for a glass of wine.

You also get the impression that he's very fair, allowing his team to develop while giving constructive criticism.

"It's a hard key change isn't it?" he says to one of the sound men before demonstrating a few chords on a keyboard.

As rehearsals wrap up, Andrew is happy with how things have worked out.

"Thank you very much guys," he says to the orchestra. "You're a really great band. Have a great one tomorrow."

And it seems that a word from him, a single note of encouragement, is all they need to carry on with added vigour.

Andrew first travelled to Cardiff last weekend to prepare for the opening night of The Sound of Music UK tour at the WMC. It comes just five months after the London Palladium production, which he produced, closed after a run of two years. Days later he returned to the Welsh capital with the notes he'd made on opening night.

"I thought it would be good to go through the orchestra today to kick it off," he says as we relax in the WMC's bar.

"I've not really been very close to it (The Sound of Music) in the last few months. Once it closed in London, I was doing other things. It's in very good shape. It's great to see Connie back. She's on good form. I think she was nervous on Sunday night but she came through it really well.

"It's odd sometimes for me because I didn't write it but I feel very personally about the music. Tiny little alterations will creep in and I say, 'You can't do that' as if I've written the music."

Andrew, 61, has long been a fan of the Rodgers and Hammerstein production, which initially opened on Broadway in 1959 with Mary Martin as feisty nun Maria.

"I wrote Richard Rodgers a fan letter when I was a kid. In those days, Rodgers and Hammerstein were incredibly unfashionable. We're talking about 1962 and the birth of The Beatles. Rodgers and Hammerstein? You didn't mention their names. I knew of them through the movies. The Sound of Music came to London with the worst advance publicity from the opinion makers.

"Noel Coward said it was 'a ghastly evening with snivelling children'. I saw it and thought it was one of the great scores of all time but something was wrong with the production.

"I was only 13. I started putting two and two together years later - Mary Martin was in her 50s but Maria was supposed to be 18."

Of course, Andrew famously cast his Maria through the BBC series, How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria? It paved the way for further TV searches for Joseph (Any Dream Will Do) and Oliver and Nancy (I'd Do Anything).

"The reason we went with the television casting was because I couldn't think of anyone who could fill a big theatre in London," he says of Maria. "I felt it should be an unknown girl. …

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