Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical School of Rock opened this week on Broadway to some of his best notices in years. Many critics expressed mild relief that he hasn’t totally lost his ability to pen a good score, and it’s hard to find fault with their disillusionment; Lloyd Webber’s flair and reputation for producing (read: monetizing) musical theater has lately outstripped his talent for creating it. But with new earworms to enjoy, we thought it time to take a look at the rest of his oeuvre to see how it compares.
Given Lloyd Webber’s proclivity for scrapbooking together new and old songs from his catalogue in service of whatever show he’s producing at the time, the scores considered for inclusion in this ranking were the most complete and easily accessible versions of each show (e.g., The Beautiful Game instead of its later unrecorded rewriting, The Boys in the Photograph; By Jeeves instead of its first draft, Jeeves). Let’s get to it.
Disqualified: Cricket (1986) was never recorded, and most of its songs were later reused. Bombay Dreams (2002) was produced by Lloyd Webber with music by A.R. Rahman and lyrics by Don Black. Only five songs in The Wizard of Oz (2011) were written by Lloyd Webber; the rest was composed by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg for the 1939 movie.
17. Love Never Dies (2010)
Lyrics by Glenn Slater (additional lyrics by Charles Hart)
The plot sounds like an SNL sketch cut during dress rehearsal: What if, after the events of Phantom of the Opera, all its characters wound up at Coney Island? No one asked for a Phantom sequel, and the universe itself seemed to conspire against its creation when, during an early writing session, Lloyd Webber’s kitten climbed atop his computerized piano and deleted the entire score with one bat of its tiny paw. The bloated mess that eventually reached the stage is a testament to all of Lloyd Webber’s worst impulses as both a composer and a producer. At least it gave us Ramin Karimloo.
Standout songs: “Til I Hear You Sing,” “The Coney Island Waltz,” “Devil Take the Hindmost.” “Love Never Dies” is fine, but the original (“Our Kind of Love” from The Beautiful Game) is better.
16. The Woman in White (2004)
Lyrics by David Zippel
Phantom’s more chill cousin is also far less interesting. The original West End production was plagued by technical problems and went through multiple rounds of revisions but never landed on the right alchemy of ingredients; Wilkie Collins’s Victorian-era source material certainly has the makings of a compelling musical — ghosts, a murder mystery, an inheritance battle, a love triangle, a villainous count — but the adaptation lacks a hook (musically or dramaturgically) to give it personality.
Standout songs: “All for Laura,” “You Can Get Away With Anything.”
15. Stephen Ward (2013)
Lyrics by Christopher Hampton and Don Black
By Lloyd Webber’s standards, this show is practically a chamber piece, and a clear move to graduate to more explicit material. Reuniting with Sunset Boulevard creatives Don Black and Christopher Hampton, Lloyd Webber takes aim at Britain’s Profumo Affair, a salacious 1963 scandal involving the country’s war minister, a young model, a Soviet naval attaché, and Stephen Ward, the osteopath-slash-socialite later dragged through the court system for having introduced them to one another. The ‘60s-Britpop-influenced score just sort of meanders around its intended political jabs, and one of its only memorable melodies, “I’m Hopeless When It Comes to You,” is so similar to “‘Til I Hear You Sing” from Love Never Dies that it’s a distraction. At this stage in the game, ALW should know better than to try to wring clear-eyed romanticism from a story that’d be better served by sardonic grit.
Standout songs: “1963,” “I’m Hopeless When It Comes to You.”
14. Aspects of Love (1989)
Lyrics by Don Black and Charles Hart
Lloyd Webber shares a birthday with our other patron saint of modern musical theater, Stephen Sondheim, but their tastes never seemed to overlap until Aspects of Love, ALW’s adaptation of David Garnett’s novella about the romantic entanglements of vain artists. The smug bed-swapping of its lustful characters doesn’t quite hold up under the weight of Lloyd Webber’s inelegant recitative, however, and the virgin/whore dichotomy of its female characters undercuts any sincerity to be found in the “Love Changes Everything,” a song with lyrics so storybook, one can almost imagine them printed in cursive atop photos of couples walking hand in hand on the beach. There’s something kinda quaint about Lloyd Webber’s intention to follow a string of megablockbusters with focused intimacy, but it all feels a bit like a gangly teen in a too-big suit trying to convince people to take him seriously.
Standout songs: “Seeing Is Believing,” “Mermaid Song,” “There Is More to Love.”
13. The Likes of Us (1965)
Lyrics by Tim Rice
In the mid-’60s, a teenage Lloyd Webber partnered with lyricist Tim Rice for the first time. Their initial collaboration was a musical based on the true story of a 19th-century philanthropist’s crusade to rescue orphaned and abandoned children from London’s seedy streets. The work failed to secure financial backing and remained tucked away until 2005, when it received its world premiere staging at ALW’s own Sydmonton Festival, along with a live recording of its score and bare-bones narration (there’s no book). Between its Victorian setting and its chorus of eager youths, this one sounds at times like an Oliver! ripoff, but the songs are pleasant and tuneful all the same — a promising offering from young talent just starting out.
Standout songs: “A Man on His Own,” “Have Another Cup of Tea,” “Going, Going, Gone,” “Twice in Love Every Day.”
12. Whistle Down the Wind (1996)
Lyrics by Jim Steinman
Phantom’s Beauty and the Beast underpinnings proved too appealing to Lloyd Webber, who teamed with “Bat Out of Hell” and “Total Eclipse of the Heart” scribe Jim Steinman to take another crack at it. Whistle Down the Wind swaps Victorian Gothic for Southern Gothic and an angelic soprano for an idealistic 15-year-old girl in ‘50s Louisiana, who becomes convinced an escaped convict hiding out in her barn is actually Jesus Christ. There’s little room for subtlety in the ensuing ideological push-pull between earnest kids and cynical tent-revival rednecks (the convict’s 11 o’clock number, “The Nature of the Beast,” is worthy of a pained Jim Halpert camera-stare) but the rockabilly orchestrations lend it an appealing sense of stakes and momentum.
Standout songs: “Whistle Down the Wind,” “When Children Rule the World,” “Tire Tracks and Broken Hearts,” “I Never Get What I Pray For.”
11. Starlight Express (1984)
Lyrics by Richard Stilgoe; later revisions by Don Black and David Yazbek
“Thomas the Tank Engine, onstage, on roller skates” sounds like another SNL sketch idea drunkenly pitched to a delirious writers room at 3 a.m., but no one loves spectacle quite like ALW, and in the early ‘80s, there was nothing as spectacular to English audiences as this bonkers tale of a train set come to life. (It played over 7,000 performances on the West End. Seven. Thousand.) The musical cocktail of diet disco cut with electro-pop scores points for being so unapologetically of its time. Synthesizers! Electric guitar! Jazzy sax! Distorted vocals! All in service of a feel-good underdog story! Bless us, every one.
Standout songs: “He Whistled at Me,” “AC/DC,” “Right Place, Right Time.”
10. The Beautiful Game (2000) [Rewritten as The Boys in the Photograph (2009)]
Lyrics by Ben Elton
Webber’s first sports-themed musical, a short piece called Cricket, was composed with Tim Rice on commission for Queen Elizabeth II’s 60th birthday and later recycled for Aspects of Love. His second sports-themed musical, The Beautiful Game, was penned with Blackadder alum Ben Elton and took a surprisingly nuanced look at the effect of sectarian violence on a group of teen footballers in Northern Ireland in 1969. With echoes of Irish folk in its orchestrations and West Side Story in its plot points, it’s a minor ALW work, but a strong one.
Standout songs: “In God’s Own Country,” “Clean the Kit,” “Let Us Love in Peace,” “Our Kind of Love” (pillaged for use in “Love Never Dies,” sigh).
9. Tell Me on a Sunday (1979)
Lyrics by Don Black (later revised by Richard Maltby Jr.)
A one-act song cycle (later paired with an Act II ballet and retitled Song and Dance), Tell Me on a Sunday follows a young woman from her home in England as she heads across the pond to the adventures (and men) waiting in NYC. The girl is nondescript to the point of offense (in the original staging, she didn’t even have a name), but the songs are tasty cabaret-ready slices of orchestral pop.
Standout songs: “Take That Look Off Your Face,” “Capped Teeth and Caesar Salad,” “Unexpected Song,” “Come Back With the Same Look in Your Eyes.”
8. School of Rock (2015)
Lyrics by Glenn Slater
The announcement that Lloyd Webber would be adapting Mike White’s 2003 film about a self-absorbed man-child and his rock band of posh prep-school tweens into a musical was a real “LOL … wait, what?” head-scratcher, but like the endearing zhlub at its center, the School of Rock score is disarmingly fun. Lloyd Webber’s efforts to match the tone and energy of the movie’s original tunes actually succeed; turns out the dude can still pen a catchy lite-pop-rock jam. Slater’s lyrics are on the simple side of straightforward, and it certainly helps that the likable, exhaustingly energetic Alex Brightman is usually the one belting ‘em out, but still: This one’s a charmer.
Standout songs: “Stick It to the Man” and “You’re in the Band.” “School of Rock (Teacher’s Pet)” is great, but it’s more or less the same as the version from the movie. The snarky-funny “Give Up Your Dreams,” sadly cut from the show in previews, is thankfully preserved on the recording.
7. Cats (1981)
Lyrics based on Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T. S. Eliot
What is Cats about? The further we get from its decades-spanning, record-breaking dominance over modern musical theater, the less it seems to matter. Ostensibly a depiction of the gathering of felines tasked with deciding who among them deserves reincarnation, Cats has never claimed to care much for structure: It’s not a musical, it’s a SHOW! [Insert jazz hands.] And once it’s divorced from the spectacle of a theater-size junkyard set and lithe dancers in literal catsuits, that threadbare plot all but evaporates, leaving behind a collection of eclectic character songs. Sure, they’re kinda nonsensical. They’re funny and weird (and weirdly moving), too.
Standout songs: “Memory” (of course), “Old Deuteronomy,” “Gus: The Theatre Cat,” “Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer” (U.S. version).
6. By Jeeves (1996)
Lyrics by Alan Ayckbourn
Lloyd Webber and Alan Ayckbourn’s initial 1975 adaptation of P.G. Wodehouse’s novels about a foppish young socialite and his hypercompetent valet, Jeeves flopped so magnificently that Lloyd Webber withdrew its cast recording from print to better mine its lengthy score for melodies for future shows. It popped up again in the mid-’90s, heavily trimmed and revised, and again in 2001, but remains one of his least-cited works. Too bad: By Jeeves is a real gem of period musical-comedy, featuring some of Lloyd Webber’s most hummable tunes and a hearty helping of dry British wit. When was the last time an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical made you laugh on purpose?
Standout songs: “Travel Hopefully,” “It’s a Pig,” “That Was Nearly Us,” “By Jeeves,” “The Wooster Code.”
5. Sunset Boulevard (1993)
Lyrics by Christopher Hampton and Don Black
It’d take a far more inept creative force than ALW to ruin source material as perfect as Billy Wilder’s 1950 film, so he can’t get all the credit for how good the musical is, but the delicious noir quality of the score is definitely his doing. From the first chords of the overture, the jazz-influenced music slinks out from a dark corner and winds through the halls of Norma Desmond’s creaky Hollywood mansion. Just like the unhinged former screen star herself, ALW’s score is gorgeous, foreboding, and occasionally grating. “As If We Never Said Goodbye” and “With One Look” are easily two of his best compositions.
Standout songs: “As If We Never Said Goodbye,” “With One Look,” “The Greatest Star of All.”
Glenn Close singing “As If We Never Said Goodbye” at the ‘95 Tonys.
4. Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (1968)
Lyrics by Tim Rice
A favorite of every high-school drama club, Joseph is often dismissed as cartoony fluff. And, yeah, its depiction of the Old Testament story of Joseph includes an Elvis-aping Pharaoh swiveling his hips while describing how his dreams have got him “all shook up,” not to mention an entire Afro-Caribbean number and a whistlin’, yodelin’ country jam. But the enthusiastic earworms that pack the score are proof of ALW’s gift for pitch-perfect pastiche, and honestly, there are worse things than an unselfconsciously giddy rendition of “Go, Go, Go Joseph.” This is the Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans of musicals: The bad productions are almost enough to turn you off until — ah! — you land on one that’s so tasty, it renews your faith.
Standout songs: “Close Every Door,” “Jacob and Sons/Joseph’s Coat.” Joseph also gets the best of ALW’s ill-advised “mega-mix” medley remixes, hands down.
Donny Osmond singing “Close Every Door.”
3. The Phantom of the Opera (1986)
Lyrics by Charles Hart (additional lyrics by Richard Stilgoe)
Like Cats, Phantom has become an easy punch line, its title now shorthand for bombast and melodrama and aggressive organ underscoring and terrifyingly resilient old things that refuse to die. But beneath the layer of cheese it’s acquired, Phantom’s songs music have a depth ALW’s yet to match. Its effects are palpable: “Music of the Night” is still spine-tingling; the trills and power brass of “Masquerade” still rousing; that five-note motif (BUMMMMM bum bum bumbum bummmmm) still hugely evocative of impending danger. It’s not that Phantom is a GOOD show, exactly — once you notice “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again” has a melody that never resolves itself, it’s just a short walk to pointing out plot holes and picking apart Hart’s nonsensical lyrics — but it transcends its myriad inconsistencies to be remain of its unprecedented staying power.
Standout songs: “All I Ask of You,” “Think of Me,” “The Music of the Night,” “The Point of No Return.”
Sarah Brightman and Michael Crawford sing “The Phantom of the Opera” and “Music of the Night” at the ‘88 Tonys.
2. Jesus Christ Superstar (1970)
Lyrics by Tim Rice
Telling the story of Jesus’ last seven days on Earth with the attitude and overzealous belting of modern rock was a bold change from the kid-friendly Joseph. Rice’s lyrics try so hard to feel casual that they occasionally sound lazy (“Show me there’s a reason for your wanting me to die / You’re far too keen on where and how and not so hot on why”), but Lloyd Webber’s use of leitmotif here is his career best, and the depiction of near-mythological figures like Judas, Peter, Mary Magdalene, and Pontius Pilate as flawed, conflicted humans is fascinating. While Cats’ score suffers when it’s separated from its staging, Jesus Christ Superstar makes for a powerful listening experience on its own.
Standout songs: “Heaven on Their Minds,” “Gethsemane (I Only Want to Say),” “Everything’s Alright,” “I Don’t Know How to Love Him.”
Carl Anderson performs “Heaven On Their Minds” in the ‘73 film adaptation.
1. Evita (1976)
Lyrics by Tim Rice
Like JCS, Evita’s pointed commentary about the media hype surrounding an inscrutable, influential public figure gives it a bite lacking in other Lloyd Webber shows. But Evita is also more emotionally satisfying musical theater. The rich underscoring and the inclusion of Latin choral interludes suggest an effort on Lloyd Webber’s part to push himself creatively, and it has no need for the rock histrionics that at times burden JCS. It’s a smart, savvy, confidently grown-up show, and its dramatic musical highs and lows are effective regardless if the breathy Madonna or the indomitable Patti LuPone is singing them. It’s not just Andrew Lloyd Webber’s best: It’s one of the best, period.
Standout songs: “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina,” “Oh, What a Circus,” “Another Suitcase in Another Hall.”
Madonna and Antonio Banderas perform “Waltz for Eva and Che” in the ‘96 film adaptation.
Patti LuPone, Mandy Patinkin, and Bob Gunton sing “A New Argentina” at the ‘80 Tony Awards .