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American Idol Tracker: Andrew Lloyd Webber forsees big night for Brooke White

April 21, 2008 |  4:58 pm

God of theater though he may be, a day of rehearsing with the six remaining contestants on "American Idol" left Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber ready for a break. “We have a rather weary composer here,” he said by telephone moments after finishing up with the Idols. “It's probably best to define him as de-composer.”

An American television singing competition may seem like an odd place to find the man who owned musician theater for three decades, dominating Broadway with a string of sensations, including “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Evita,” “Cats” and “Phantom of the Opera,” but the grand man of the stage had flown in to serve as "Idol's" guest mentor, guiding the surviving six warriors of song through their Tuesday night performances, which will be devoted to his songbook.

Looking back over his day with the contestants, Lloyd Webber was cautiously hopeful that his works would survive their encounter with American reality television and enthused about the singers the show has fielded. Not having seen the show on air this season, he said after working with the group, “The six kids were really in their own ways all very talented. I think that in their own way they're a pretty diverse bunch, and in their own way they've all got something.”

Although Lloyd Webber was barred “under pain of death” from revealing the song choices, he was allowed to speak of being struck by one moment in particular.  “The girl who I was really quite impressed with was Brooke. She was really -- I got something out of her. I mean, whether or not, you know, that is there at the end, I really couldn't tell you.

"The one thing is, working with me, one on one, where I'm on the other side -- I'm sort of actually, in her case, holding her hand to get the performance out of her. It's very different than sitting in a great big television studio with a big audience and you've got a camera in front of you. So, one will have to see.”

For the contestants, having to transition from the pop hits of Mariah Carey and Dolly Parton to the complex character-driven songs of the Lloyd Webber catalog will be one of the season's major tests.  Asked how he trains pop singers to sing a song like "Memory" from "Cats," he said, “With that song in particular, it's very much about understanding the words because they're very heavily based on T.S. Eliot and the four quartets. And it's a song that is very, very much word-driven as much as it's music-driven, of course. The relationship of the music to the words is important.

“It's a different value that happens,” he continues, speaking of pop singers taking on his works, “because you get people who've got the -- as they say -- the money notes. And with a song like 'Memory,' you absolutely can get through it on those. But it may not be the performance, if I was there, I would absolutely -- I would direct them to do.”

If he seems to be speaking from experience, it is because "American Idol" is not his first step into reality television. Back in Britain, the composer has led a series of TV competition shows to cast West End productions of beloved musicals, starting with the search for a Maria for “The Sound of Music,” then for the title role for a production his own “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” and now, the show currently airing, which is auditioning the role of Nancy in “Oliver.”

His reality TV career recently, in fact, brought an "American Idol" icon soaring to his defense. In March, actor and current Old Vic artistic director Kevin Spacey openly complained about the BBC running a show that promotes upcoming Lloyd Webber productions, griping, “You are not a commercial broadcaster, and I thought that was crossing the line. Where's our 13-week program when we put a play on?”

Stepping into the limelight to rebut the attack very quickly was none other than "Idol" judge Simon Cowell, who said in an interview: "It sounds like Russia in the '60s, that mentality. I don't think that applies to the modern world. What the BBC does is very good for the West End because it reminds millions of people what the West End is all about -- they're going to sell a lot of tickets off the back of that."

He went on to declare "I love Andrew to bits," calling the composer “a national treasure.”

Lloyd Webber, for his part, expressed his gratitude and appreciation for Cowell's support, calling him “brilliant” and “one of the best A&R executives ever.”

Giving a little more away about what is in store on Andrew Lloyd Webber week, he revealed that the group number was “something I suggested,” and went on to say, “It's a bit of an odd choice perhaps. I think it will work. We'll see.” When badgered for more information, he would reveal only that, although his shows are rife with rousing group numbers, this song in fact was not originally sung by a group.

Continuing on the experience of watching the cast perform his work, Lloyd Webber said, “I hear my songs all over the place, all over the world. You hear versions of them where they work, but they're not necessarily what I would do if I were there and were able to have input to the artist, which is why it is quite interesting to have a bunch of kids singing my own music. Very strange choices some of them made as well.” He laughs. “But I'm not allowed to tell you about it.

-- Richard Rushfield
(photo courtesy of Fox)