Better late than never, I suppose. Andrew Lloyd Webber collected his bus pass last March, and the BBC marked the occasion last night with a concert in Hyde Park which goes out on Radio 2 on Friday 10 October.
Hosted ebulliently by John Barrowman — with quite a lot of “nancying about” as one ALW associate ruefully remarked in the VIP area to the left of the stage — the three hour show was a wonderfully representative catalogue of the composer’s best stuff, with knockout contributions from Idina Menzel singing “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina,” Denise Van Outen laying down the law with “Take That Look Off Your Face” and Elaine Paige reprising “Memory” from Cats.
But was I alone in liking the opening set from Jesus Christ Superstar best of all? Sarah One, ALW’s first wife, nodded quietly when I suggested this. The BBC Concert Orchestra gave an electrifying account of the overture, Joss Stone pitched in vividly with the title song and Steve Balsamo, perhaps the best Jesus ever, gave a truly harrowing and beautiful version of “Gethsemane.”
ALW himself appeared at the end in a pink shirt and revealed that the title of the new Phantom show is Let Love Live, or Love Lies Down, or Let’s Love Life, or something equally unmemorable. I think it’s back to the drawing board with that one.
Anyway, there were far worse ways of spending what was probably the last decent late summer evening of the year than standing around sipping champagne with Graham Norton, Anthony van Laast, Bonnie Langford and Mark Steyn listening to this lot.
I thought Maria Friedman might have made a bad choice with “As If We Never Said Goodbye” from Sunset Boulevard — too muted and too late in the concert — but she rallied magnificently and pulled the whole audience into the slow-building climax.
Less successful, I’m afraid, was the new Nancy, Jodie Prenger, with the extra film song from Evita, “You Must Love Me.” Not much colouring or character, and I fear the worst already for her performance in Oliver!
The highlight contributions for ALW’s 50th birthday concert in the Albert Hall were provided by Glenn Close and Antonio Banderas. The honours were more evenly shared this time. Julian Lloyd Webber in an outsize Leyton Orient shirt led a dashing jazz forward line in the Variations his brother wrote for him as a bet over the O’s’ relegation fight one year.
Duncan James and Hayley Westenra gave real yearning to “I Believe My Heart” from The Woman in White. Ruthie Henshall was plangently pretty in “Another Suitcase” from Evita, while Shonagh Daly in a stunning red dress let rip with “Buenos Aires” from the same show.
And we all sang the descant to “Any Dream Will Do,” Lee Mead captivating everyone’s hearts, especially that of Denise, gorgeous and giggly, who by now had joined us on the champagne trail.
Craig Revel Horwood was attracting quite a good crowd, too, and Graham felt he had to turn a bit nasty with an over zealous colleague from the BBC. I asked him why he wasn’t on the stage himself. “It’s only radio, darling” he snapped, not all that good-naturedly, happy to leave the donkey work to John Barrowman without suggesting that he looked like a bit of an ass, I’m sure.
The crowd seeemed to be mightily entertained,and there was a spectacular fireworks display to round things off. We drove home happily with our friends and neighbours Howard and June Jones — Howard’s a top lawyer for ALW — checking our celebrity lists.
No sign of Tim Rice, alas, but plenty of back-up from Don Black, Bill Kenwright (happy with an Everton victory that same afternoon), Summer Strallen, Alex Armitage, Anthony Pye-Jeary in an unnecessarily florid shirt, musical supremo Nigel Wright and our own editor, of course, Terri Paddock.