Donald MacInnes: When a plumber's grandson's musical goes down the tubes...


If you are a fan of musical theatre (and if you are, what the hell are you doing reading this? Shouldn't you be out in the back garden practising your big solo number at the end of Act Two?), you will be gutted to hear that Andrew Lloyd Webber's latest musical, which bears the decidedly unextravagant title of Stephen Ward, is to close after it lasted in London's glittering West End less than four months.

The show, which took as its subject matter the iconic Profumo sex-and-spy scandal from the 1960s, opened before Christmas to reviews which could probably best be described by the use of one word – meh – and will close its doors on 29 March after the public voted with its debit cards and stayed away. Joe and Josephine Public would evidently prefer to watch The One Show on a Tuesday evening than take advantage of the West End's notoriously cheap (and occasionally sometimes even two-for-one) midweek ticket prices.

So, if you love your dialogue sung and your hands jazzy, cry a tear for Lord Lloyd-Webber. If you care little that he has failed again (he hasn't had a hit for going on 20 years), I should warn you that you should not do so just because his Lordship has a double-barrelled name and looks like his family has been flogging servants since the Spanish Armada. In truth, his name is not double-barrelled. He actually has three. Nor is he from uber-posh old money. And my own knee-jerk inverted snobbery aside, I have to say that these two facts make him more palatable to me. Not being an enormous fan of musical theatre, it's probably unfair of me to single out the genre's most successful proponent for individual damnation. As if he invented the show tune. But he is as culpable as anyone. His modest roots, though, are comment-worthy.

His father was the renowned organist and composer William Lloyd Webber, the son of a plumber. Bit of a fancy name for the offspring of a plumber, you may remark. Well, yes, but there is a reason for that. By the time plain old William Webber was a teenager, he was performing as an organist and was good enough to win a scholarship to the Royal College of Music, where he studied with Ralph Vaughan Williams. Unfortunately, there was another student at the college called William Webber, so our hero began to use one of his two middle names – Lloyd – as an identifying characteristic.

And even though ALW has earned around £47.4 trillion from his musicals, I'm glad he came from a working-class background. I would find it very hard to resent someone who exists a mere two degrees of separation on the family tree away from a clogged U-bend. Whatever indignities (however well paid they were) his monkey-wrenching grandfather had to endure, he can rest easy knowing that his relative has done very well with the family name. So to speak…

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