With Broadway and performing arts venues across the country shuttered by the COVID-19 pandemic, live theater is in short supply these days. But theater lovers still have reason to rejoice: Iconic British composer Andrew Lloyd Webber is making select musicals from his extensive oeuvre available to watch on YouTube each Friday for the next seven weeks.
Lloyd Webber announced the initiative, dubbed “The Shows Must Go On!,” in a video posted last week. The virtual series kicked off April 3 with the Donny Osmond-led 1999 film adaptation of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. This Friday’s offering is a 2012 filmed stage version of Jesus Christ Superstar, starring Ben Forster as Jesus, former Spice Girl Melanie Chisholm (also known as Melanie C.) as Mary Magdalene and Tim Minchin as Judas. Future lineups will be announced in “due course,” reports Tim Dams for Variety.
Each feature-length show will begin streaming on YouTube at 2 p.m. EST and remain accessible—free of charge—for the next 48 hours.
“I’m here to tell you that Universal [has] come up with the idea of a whole series now called ‘The Shows Must Go On,’ which is about musicals going from stage to screen,” says Webber in the video announcement.
He notes that the roster of musicals will also include “my disaster musical By Jeeves, and I’m very, very fond of it.” (The show, a musical comedy based on British humorist P.G. Wodehouse’s writings, famously flopped during its initial run, but gained acclaim after undergoing extensive revisions.)
Over his decades-long career, the 72-year-old Webber has composed some of the most famous soundtracks in modern theater, including Cats, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Evita, Jesus Christ Superstar, School of Rock and The Phantom of the Opera. His grand musical numbers draw on opera and rock ‘n’ roll, writes Adam Gopnik for the New Yorker, and have achieved remarkable commercial success: “Memory,” for instance—first sung by Elaine Paige in the 1981 debut of Cats—became a Top 10 hit upon its release, according to PBS.
The composer has stayed busy during quarantine by engaging with fans on Twitter. He recently encouraged theater lovers to submit videos of themselves singing along to his piano rendition of “Any Dream Will Do” from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. After reviewing clips, Webber arranged some of the submissions into a compilation. He has also been taking requests for songs to play on his piano; he then posts these recordings with the hashtag #ComposerInIsolation.
Webber’s newest initiative offers audiences a way to indulge their stage cravings at home as the immediate future of the theater scene remains uncertain. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a “catastrophic” impact on the performing arts world, write Peter Marks and Geoff Edgers for the Washington Post. On Wednesday, industry leaders announced that Broadway would remain closed until June 7 at the earliest.
“Most people will have a hiatus and know that they have a job to go back to,” Kate Shindle, president of Actors’ Equity Association, tells the Post. “For folks who work in the theater, to say nothing of people who make their living in [special] event work, the light at the end of the tunnel is dimmer.”