​Andrew Lloyd Webber's golden touch

Andrew Lloyd Webber
Andrew Lloyd Webber 08:02

Andrew Lloyd Webber is very busy on Broadway these days -- with THREE hit musicals playing at the same time. Our Mo Rocca scored a sit-down with the legendary composer: (An earlier version of this story was originally broadcast December 13, 2015.)

"I don't know what really makes a great musical or not," said Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber. "In the end, you write it, and you write it because you want to write it."

And if Lloyd Webber writes it, there's a good chance it'll be a hit. After all, this is a man with THREE shows simultaneously running on Broadway: "Phantom of the Opera," "School of Rock," and the brand-new revival of "Cats."

The newest of these, "School of Rock" -- based on the Jack Black movie about a washed-up musician who teaches a bunch of prep schoolers to unleash their inner Zeppelin -- opened just last year.

"It's not a musical that's going to change the course of the Western musical as we presently know it," said Lloyd Webber, "but hopefully you take something away from it. And I mean, it's got some catchy songs!"

In fact, Lloyd Webber received some of the best reviews of his career for "School of Rock." The show isn't entirely new territory for him. Early on, he and lyricist Tim Rice teamed up for one of the first-ever rock musicals: "Jesus Christ Superstar."

One song from the 1971 show, "I Don't Know How to Love Him," was so popular, two versions of it landed on the charts at the same time -- by Helen Reddy and Yvonne Elliman.

"I always thought it was a melody that could take a story," said Lloyd Webber. "It has progression and movement."

Telling stories with music started early for him. Raised in a family of musicians (his father was director of the London College of Music), the future impresario fashioned a miniature stage from a record player.

But his musical tastes were not typical. "No. I mean, my love of musical theater was certainly not typical. I mean, it was considered to be very, very abnormal, in fact!" he laughed. "It may sound amazing to people today, but Rodgers and Hammerstein were considered by -- how can I put it? -- the sort of opinion-making tastemakers and everything to be 'off the scale as sentimental.'

"I remember once saying at a dinner when I was very little and there were frightfully grand people, I said, 'You know, I like 'Carousel.' 'What?!?' "

Bob Gunton and Patti LuPone as Juan and Eva Peron in "Evita." Martha Swope

After dropping out of the Royal College of Music, Lloyd Webber began collaborating with Rice while still in his teens.

The pair returned to Broadway post-"Superstar" with "Evita," a musical about Eva Peron, the wife of Argentina's general-turned-president.

Of the anthem, "Don't Cry For Me, Argentina" Lloyd Webber said, "It was a dramatic moment, finding an anthem that could turn on her -- that could be played in complete triumph."

"Evita" was a hit. But "Cats" -- based on the poems of T.S. Eliot, and Lloyd Webber's first musical without Rice -- was a mega-hit.

Rocca said, "I played the cast album of 'Cats' so many times my brother almost killed me. And he'd come into my room and he'd say, 'I'm sick of hearing about the Jellicle cats!'"

Since you mention it, what are Jellicle cats?

"Well, Jellicle cats are a corruption of what the English sort of posh upper class say: 'Dear little cats,'" said Lloyd Webber. "So 'Dear little cats' become Jellicle cats. If you were in 'Downton Abbey' you say, 'Dear little cats.'"

"Are you a cat person?"