Las Vegas Sun

June 27, 2017

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Superstar mentor

Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber drops in at the Venetian to help out ‘American Idol’ contestants, talks about his new project, a ‘Phantom of the Opera’ sequel

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Chris Morris

Start custom-building another new theater, Las Vegas: Andrew Lloyd Webber is working on a sequel to “The Phantom of the Opera.”

No, he won’t hum a few bars for us.

Lord Lloyd Webber, 60, the composer of some of the most successful musicals of the past century — “Phantom,” “Cats,” “Evita,” “Jesus Christ Superstar” — was at The Phantom Theatre at the Venetian on Friday and Saturday to “mentor” the six remaining contestants for “American Idol” (they’ll sing his songs on the show tonight and Wednesday on Fox) and to broadcast his own U.K. TV show live from Vegas.

While he was here he also had a spot of lunch at Wolfgang Puck’s Postrio, saw “Jersey Boys” at the Palazzo, and caught the big Calzaghe-Hopkins fight. He’s also catching “Phantom: The Las Vegas Spectacular,” which he says he hasn’t seen since it opened in June 2006, and was hoping to squeeze in a visit to “The Beatles LOVE.”

Lord, you’re one busy guy.

The stage has been cleared, and there’s not a single “Idol” in sight by 4 p.m. — Fox is very foxy about avoiding that spoilerish sort of thing. Wearing an expensive-looking, rather complicated pink plaid shirt and burgundy corduroy trousers, Lloyd Webber settles into an orchestra-level seat for a brisk, brief conversation.

Lloyd Webber isn’t an “Idol”-worshipper, he’ll have you know.

“I’m a new boy on this one — I saw it this week for the first time. I think that’s rather good, you know, because I’m not influenced by what’s happened. I think the ‘Idol’ people were quite taken aback, actually, by what I do, versus some of the other mentors. I hope I’ve managed to change a couple of their performances, because a couple of them were dire.”

It should be noted that the last word comes out an appalled and upper-crusty “diaaaahhhh.”

“One of them,” he says, “actually ended up being really excellent.”

He won’t be coaxed into telling exactly who that singer is.

“No, I won’t, but it should be pretty obvious.”

(We’re calling it here: He’s referring to this season’s apparent Chosen One, 17-year-old David Archuleta, who is solidly in his comfort zone when it comes to delivering a big-voiced, emotional show tune ballad.)

“My only feeling about ‘Idol’ when I saw it was that all the judges thought they were going for the presidential campaign,” Lloyd Webber says. “I wanted to make them all laugh a little bit. The first thing I did was ask them the meaning of ... ‘Las Vegas,’ and none of them was able to answer. Well, the meaning is ‘the meadows.’ So I asked them had they seen any sheep here. And that made them smile a bit. And I said, ‘Well, I’ve seen a few people fleeced.’ ”

Ba-dum-bum. He’s here all weekend, ladies and gentlemen.

“Carly — she’s the Irish one, isn’t she? — Carly was going to do ‘All I Ask of You’ (from “Phantom”), and I felt a bit of a turncoat in this theater of all places, saying, ‘This is wildly unsuited for you, darling. I said to her, ‘It’s crazy, you’ve got to do a rock-and-roll song. Better to do “Jesus Christ Superstar.” I think she’ll rock the place out with it,” he chuckles. “We’ll see how much they take of what I said — or not. I’ll probably be cut to shreds (in editing).”

Lloyd Webber may be new to America’s “Idol,” but he’s an old hand at the TV thing, having helmed his own BBC-TV talent search show for three years. This season, Lloyd Webber is casting for a West End revival of the 1960 British musical “Oliver!”

We may not get to see Lloyd Webber’s show here in the States. “Our pitch was completely cattled by that ‘Grease’ program, which was dire,” he nearly spits. “Absolutely abysmal. A complete travesty of what we do.”

“The mantra for my show in Britain,” he says, “is we nurture and we don’t torture. It’s given me a chance to show a vast TV audience what I do. And the consequence of that has been that theater attendance in Britain has gone up by roughly 25 percent across the board, from amateur through to professional theater, and not just the shows we’ve done.”

He says he has been offered a network TV program over here. “But these television programs are really time-consuming,” he says. “And the difficulty is, I am writing the sequel to ‘The Phantom,’ and I can’t now deny that I’m doing it. TV is not my day job,” he says with a laugh.

So how far along is “Phantom II”?

“Far enough that if it was on track it would open in the latter part of next year,” says Lloyd Webber, who adds that his new show will be set in Coney Island in 1900, directed by Jack O’Brien, designed by Bob Crowley, with lyrics by young American Ben Slater and a story by English comic Ben Elton. “I think we’re all aware of the enormity of what we’ve taken on.”

Lloyd Webber says he would have loved to have seen the Las Vegas Academy Theatre’s production of “Cats,” which was set in Vegas’ famous Neon Boneyard. And he says he’s got hopes for the growth and evolution of theater here, “now that it’s got a toehold.”

“I wish that Vegas would do a homegrown musical of its own, and sort of embrace what the values of the town are,” Lloyd Webber says. “It’s a bit like what I told the kids on ‘Idol’: Think about what your own talents and your own gifts are, and then perform to those strengths, not what somebody else tells you. It sounds a bit pompous, this, but it’s not meant to be. There are certain things that are unique to this place, and if somebody was going to try a real musical here about Vegas, it would be very, very fascinating. Because there’s a tradition here, there’s a culture here now. Maybe some people don’t approve of it, but whatever. It exists.”

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