Andrew Lloyd Webber: Composer (of shows including Cats, The Phantom of the Opera, Jesus Christ Superstar, et al.). Seven-time Tony winner. Oscar-winning songwriter (”You Must Love Me,” from 1996’s Evita). Producer (of both flops, like Broadway’s underrated Bombay Dreams, and hits, like London’s current Sound of Music revival). Lord of the British empire (yes, really; he used to be ”Sir” but got promoted). Blogger. And now, TV phenom — thanks to the smashingly successful BBC reality show How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?, which launched a national talent search for Connie Fisher, star of the aforementioned smash Sound of Music. This Sunday (Feb. 11), he’s bringing his expertise and TV-friendly personality across the pond, where he’ll serve as a guest judge on NBC’s Broadway-star-search Grease: You’re the One That I Want! The episode will be broadcast live from L.A. (7 p.m. EST), so no one — not even the Lord himself — knows what’s in store, but he took a break from his latest ventures (another reality show, Any Dream Will Do, and a musicalization of the Russian novel The Master and Margarita) to ring EW and chat for a few minutes.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First, congratulations on the success of Maria. You’re the One That I Want! would be nothing were it not for that show.
ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER: It’s extraordinary. I was talking to Simon Cowell today about it; we had a cup of coffee. Simon’s an old friend. We were going over, How did it work and why did it work? I don’t know.
You took some flak from the time Maria began — from when it was first announced, really.
From the theater community, yes. Then the British public sort of fell behind it. The second program in, we knew we were away. It was fabulous. And now my discovery [Connie Fisher] has won, this last week, the London Critics’ Award for Best Newcomer; and at the other end of the scale is the people’s award, from the website What’s On Stage. She’s won both. It’s unprecedented. What the program was about was really genuinely wanting to find a new West End star. That’s what we were about. We never set out to badmouth people.
Unlike certain U.S. reality shows?
What’s great about Maria is that it had a great heart and really, at the end of the day, that came through. It isn’t like other reality shows. I hope it isn’t.
Grease seems to have something of that sort of feel. Was there ever any talk of you being involved with that? After all, Grease judge David Ian was one of the judges on Maria, and he’s your co-producer on The Sound of Music.
It was I who suggested it. We couldn’t do Maria for NBC in the timeslot they wanted to do — which is now — because we didn’t have a Broadway theater or production. So I suggested in a meeting with BBC Worldwide, ”Why don’t you do my friend David Ian’s Grease, because that has got a production.”
So you were talking about doing Maria in the States?
I think everybody wanted to do Maria first. But the difference between these shows and American Idol or anything like that is that, Simon was saying to me today, the endgame is extremely different. We have to have a theater and a production and a show running; we can offer a real thing. We were not able to do that with Sound of Music, so I suggested Grease. Broadway, like everybody else, is going to watch very keenly. I think they’re going to be very interested in what will happen with Maria because Grease is happening.
You’ve become quite the television star in the U.K., from what I understand.
I’ve been offered so many shows in America. I’m not on this planet to do TV, but at the same time I do enjoy helping young people.
That was evidenced by Maria; your feedback was always so constructive.
When I do the Grease program Sunday all I want is to do is to be able to suggest things to the young artists. I love the possibility of being able to connect on TV. To show how young artists can come through if they’re given proper time. That’s what it’s about at the end of the day. It’s not about me making cheap points off them.
Have you seen You’re the One That I Want!?
No, I’ve not seen it. I’ll see on Sunday. As they say, Tell Me on a Sunday!
My favorite show of yours, incidentally. But back to Grease…
It’s a very white crowd I’ve been sent. That’s the only thing I’m not sure about. I can’t quite understand — America’s so fantastically inclusive. But we had that problem with Maria; very few ethnic people came in.
Any hints as to what you’re going to do with the 12 potential Dannys and Sandys?
I’ve insisted that I have real time with all of the artists. They originally said, You’ve got time with the girls but not the boys, because the girls will be singing your songs. I said, This is ridiculous; it’s got to be me singing with all of them. I’ve got no idea what I’m going to find. I’ll do my best.
Wait — only the girls are singing your songs?
It’s not like you haven’t written some pretty good songs for men.
I would have thought with Phantom, ”Music of the Night.” ”Any Dream Will Do” [from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat]…
”Close Every Door,” ”Oh, What a Circus,” ”All I Ask of You” — I can think of dozens. It seems so silly.
Intriguing. It’s intriguing. I don’t understand it, but I’m not the producer.
Speaking of you being a producer, will you definitely do Maria in the States?
If I can find a theater on Broadway next year I will. But I also want to write something myself. And I’ve been offered something completely different — it involves children’s education, high schools, and my being able to work in that context. It’s a new world for me. I very well may do Maria. And if we do Maria I want to have a really inclusive search for artists of every kind of background.
That’s one of your goals, isn’t it, with Any Dream Will Do, the U.K. show that will cast the star of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat?
It’s got to be multicultural in every way. We haven’t even started casting. But the show is completely about love, redemption, everything; it’s a simple Old Testament story with a wonderful essence of the Jewish faith in the middle of it. I do think particularly with a rock musical — and Joseph is much more in the rock vein — I think it would be thrilling if we found a fabulous, gorgeous black Joseph. It would be fabulous.