1971. Two musicals premiered on Broadway. They were both early successes from composers who have since made a huge impact on theatre. Coincidentally both have been revived this year for London audiences.
Jesus Christ Superstar, although written after Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, was the first stage hit for Andrew Lloyd Webber. You don’t need telling what that led to. He played a major part in the revival of the stage musical. Evita, Cats and The Phantom Of The Opera notably struck a chord with audiences worldwide.
Follies was Stephen Sondheim‘s second musical with Harold Prince as director. Prince collaborated with Sondheim on the earlier Company and the big hits A Little Night Music and Sweeney Todd. I hesitate to call it sugar coating but let’s say Prince seems to have been instrumental in giving a visual attraction to what could be quite challenging musicals for audiences. Interestingly Prince also directed Lloyd Webber’s massive hits The Phantom of The Opera and Evita.
Although opinion is divided, to say the least, about the quality of Lloyd Webber’s music, there is no denying his ability to appeal to a popular audience. Sondheim, on the other hand, is unquestionably a great composer but his musicals don’t tend to attract large numbers. In this respect, the contrast between these two particular musicals is instructive. This year we have had the opportunity to compare them as both were revived.
Jesus Christ Superstar was revived by Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre last year and again this summer. Follies is currently performing at the National Theatre. Where the former is plot driven with very little in the way of character development, the latter is all about the characters with minimal storytelling.
Both revivals were worthy of the material and both musicals have held up well after 46 years. In my opinion, only one will still be being revived in another 45 years because Lloyd Webber already seems of his time while Sondheim both musically and in subject matter seems timeless.
Whatever your opinion of them, live theatre would be poorer without these two titans.