Andrew Lloyd Webber

The Likes of Us: Live from the Sydmonton Festival

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When 17-year-old Andrew Lloyd Webber met 20-year-old erstwhile law student Tim Rice on the afternoon of April 25, 1965, the aspiring theater composer already had in mind a project on which he and Rice immediately began to collaborate. Although the initial work for which the two are known is Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and their first great success came with Jesus Christ Superstar, this real debut effort, The Likes of Us, on which they labored in 1965 and 1966, was a musical based on the unlikely subject of the life of Dr. Thomas Barnardo, a humanitarian who founded a string of group homes for homeless children in England during the Victorian Era. The show was never produced, and it remained no more than a footnote in the biographies of the two men for 40 years. Then, the two long-separated songwriters decided to reunite to mount a semi-staged production for the theater festival Lloyd Webber hosted annually at his estate, Sydmonton, and they did so on the morning of July 9, 2005. The performance was recorded, and that recording is presented on this album. It reveals the teenage Lloyd Webber to be far more in the thrall of his immediate theater music predecessors than he seemed when Jesus Christ Superstar launched him several years later. Indeed, the show, set in 1866, shows the distinct influence of Lionel Bart's musical version of Charles Dickens' novel Oliver Twist, Oliver!, with its rollicking Cockney numbers and Old English music hall feel, on the one hand, although it is equally apparent that Lloyd Webber was familiar with the music of Richard Rodgers, particularly The Sound of Music. Among immediate influences, one can hear the sound of Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman's score for the film Mary Poppins, and there is at least one number, "Love Is Here," that it is easy to imagine being sung on the Hit Parade of 1965 by Herman's Hermits. (Of course, both Mary Poppins and Herman's Hermits also owed much to British music hall.)

Rice and Lloyd Webber opted not to bother with the apparently never quite finished libretto by Leslie Thomas, and for this staging Rice wrote a narration to clue the audience in to the episodic, rambling plot. This narration is drolly recited by Stephen Fry, and it is in some ways the most entertaining part of the recording, as Rice takes comic aim not only at his and Lloyd Webber's early selves, but at musical theater in general and once, gently, Stephen Sondheim in particular. Rice also turns up on-stage himself, ably singing "Going, Going Gone!," described as the first song he and Lloyd Webber ever wrote together. An efficient, strong-voiced cast surrounds him, and the new orchestrations do the melodies many favors. This is certainly an unfinished work and a piece of juvenilia, but it suggests that its authors were more steeped in musical theater tradition than might have been supposed, and as presented in this good-natured, somewhat mocking manner it is given a very enjoyable belated introduction to the world.

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