Andrew Lloyd Webber is a tough nut to crack. His work is alternately inspired and ludicrous. You can find similarities between his musicals if you try, but it’s difficult to imagine Cats and Evita springing from the same creative well.
It’s actually pretty hard to imagine Cats springing from any creative well.
Like many, I have fond memories of seeing Phantom Of The Opera as a kid. It was my first real theater-going experience, and I remembered the spectacle of it more than the music. I was really into that overture, but I never paid attention to the rest of the soundtrack until late in my teen years, when the story’s themes seemed more pertinent.
This was also the time I discovered Evita, via Alan Parker’s lush and much-touted Madonna-starring movie musical. I wasn’t instantly sold on the movie, but listening to the soundtrack a few times through got me hooked.
So I enjoyed an opportunity to take in Andrew Lloyd Webber as a titan of 20th century pop culture, as he is. Here are my thoughts on select tracks.
JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT
Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is Broadway cheese for children, which turns out to be a lot more palatable than Broadway cheese for adults. (That’s Cats, folks.) I’ve never been able to get into Jesus Christ Superstar — I can’t even get past the title — but Joseph is a fairytale-esque Bible story that feels just right for the stage. Like a lot of other Webber tunes, the songs feel too good for the show.
“Any Dream Will Do”
Light and airy, this is the kind of song that makes you feel like you could set any mundane moment of your own life to a jaunty tune and strut around on stage and it would turn out just as good as this. Say what you will about Donny Osmond, but he is perfect in this recording.
Embarrassing to enjoy a kid-friendly song that’s mainly just about listing off colors, but hey, it more than does the trick. I’m not even going to read into the subtext of a musical young man who’s traipsing about in a rainbow-colored coat, except to say that this line is especially homosexual: “I look handsome, I look smart / I am a walking work of art.”
“Close Every Door”
A legitimately beautiful banger ballad that probably deserves a spot in a more dramatic musical, but it isn’t the last of those in Webber’s cannon.
“Go, Go, Go Joseph”
This is my preferred ridiculously catchy but nonsensical Bible character-themed tune, thankyouverymuch Jesus Christ Superstar.
Forget Patti LuPone — it’s all about Madonna.
That’s blasphemy to Broadway purists, I know — and I suppose I can understand why LuPone’s broader, brassier take on the First Lady of Argentina might very well be the “proper” version. But if favoring Madonna’s Eva Peron is wrong, I don’t want to be right.
I like Alan Parker’s film because it retains all the political satire, but puts a little heart into it. Madonna’s Eva is flawed, for sure, but she feels like a real human being. The stage version adopts the misogyny of many of its male characters, seemingly dismissing its subject as an ambitious, arrogant floozy.
“Eva And Magaldi / Eva Beware Of The City”
When I revisit Evita, I often start the album here. It’s the first track that gives us much Eva, and it’s key for understanding the character’s motivations. “Bad is good for me, I’m bored — so clean and so ignored.” Elegantly, it tells us everything we need to know about her going forward.
The song that got me hooked as a teenager, because it’s catchy as hell. It exquisitely captures the excitement of entering the hustle and bustle of a big city for the first time. It probably works in any metropolis, but it’s especially fun to strut around Buenos Aires itself listening to this (hoping that no one can hear this from your headphones, because the locals would probably beat you up).
“Another Suitcase In Another Hall”
A serious contender for my favorite song from this soundtrack, and it probably was at one point. It’s still glorious. This song is given to a random mistress in the stage musical, which seems insane once you’ve seen how well it works as Eva’s song in the film.
“Goodnight And Thank You”
This entire song is a slut shame, but it’s such a good one! You’d be hard-pressed to find a more delicious, wickedly clever song in any stage musical, and it’s “You’re the same!” chide doesn’t let the men off the hook, either — political ambition is no less dirty than Eva’s sexual social climbing.
“The Lady’s Got Potential”
This one’s just kind of badass, which you wouldn’t guess from the title. As through the entire album, I’m astounded by Webber’s ability to weave fairly complex political upheavals into a high-energy, very listenable song.
“I’d Be Surprisingly Good For You”
A sexy song of seduction, except it’s not just the usual pheromones and body heat. Eva and Juan are strategizing their future domination and basically committing to a lifetime commitment of shared power. A note to potential suitors: try this on me. It will work.
“Peron’s Latest Flame”
More artful slut shaming! I remember skipping this song as a kid because it sounded stiff and boring. Once you get into the lyrics, though, it’s brilliant and hilarious. The snobby delivery from the cast in the movie soundtrack immediately conjures images of noses and pinkies in the air. I can’t imagine better musical skewering of the upper crust, delivered by the 1% themselves.
“A New Argentina”
So rousing, it makes me wish I could vote in Argentina.
“High Flying, Adored”
Quite possibly my favorite track from this album, and that’s saying something.
This is probably the most Madonna-esque track, which is like a Broadway version of vogue, with Eva getting glammed up for her trip to Europe. It’s delicious.
Again, the Che character packs so much exposition into music, it’s astounding. Does it win through? The answer is yes!
“Waltz For Eva And Che”
It’s a political debate, with singing and waltzing! One of the amazing things about Evita is how well Eva and Che play off each other in the music, even though they never interact outside of this one fantasy moment. Listening to the music on its own, you could easily mistake him as her paramour and a major figure in her life. Instead, he’s an omniscient narrator who gets just this one surreal moment to speak his mind directly to the lady herself.
THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA
“The Phantom Of The Opera”
This may as well be a sung-through version of Danny Elfman’s Batman theme, and I’m here for it. It felt super duper macabre when I was 11.
“The Music Of The Night”
One of Webber’s true masterpieces, and the standout of the show. The music and lyrics are beautiful, to the extent you end up wishing the stage show’s story actually matched the dark, poetic tragedy described in these words. Oh well! Sometimes I just listen to this track and imagine my own version. Seriously.
“All I Ask Of You (Reprise)”
The first version is nice enough but kind of treacly when it’s between Christine and Raoul. This one really needs the Phantom to work, and work it does as soon he comes in! The reprise adds plenty of darkness, fittingly, and ends with a threat and maniacal laughter, like all love ballads should.
This song is gorgeous. The rest of this is scary trash. Somewhat catchy scary trash, but scary trash all the same.
I can’t even talk about it, but how dare you, Andrew Lloyd Webber. How dare you do this to cats? What did cats ever do to you?