Lloyd Webber decisive about cancer scare
The original cast of the London Palladium production of of "The Wizard of Oz." THE CANADIAN PRESS/ho-© 2011 RUG Ltd. - Keith Pattison
TORONTO - Several years after undergoing prostate cancer surgery, legendary British theatre impresario Andrew Lloyd Webber says the health scare hasn't made him more sentimental or inspired a desire to create another legacy project.
"It was just something that was curable and was a bore," the 64-year-old director and composer said matter-of-factly in an interview to promote his production of "The Wizard of Oz" that begins preview performances at Toronto's Ed Mirvish Theatre on Thursday.
"It just took two months out of my life which I'd have preferred not to have lost. You know, you don't get back immediately in quite the way you think.
"But it's gone and it's one of the lucky things about prostate cancer is if you catch it early, it's not a problem."
That was the case for Lloyd Webber, who's won seven Tony Awards, three Grammy Awards and an Oscar.
His diagnosis of early stage prostate cancer came in October 2009 after undergoing a blood test he'd requested while at the doctor's office for something else.
"There would have been a very strong probability that if I hadn't just decided myself, 'I'm going to have this checked,' that I would be sitting here now with it and not knowing," Lloyd Webber said in a hotel lounge during a recent stop in Toronto.
When the blood results were abnormal, Lloyd Webber took immediate action.
"I said, 'I don't fancy this,' checked myself straight into the best specialist I knew and within a week he whipped the thing out. So there you go," he said with a chuckle.
"I just thought, 'I've got a new show coming on next year, it's containable, get rid of it. Do it,'" added the London-based creator of over a dozen musicals, including "The Phantom of the Opera," "Jesus Christ Superstar" and "Cats."
"Some people might have said, 'Look, let's go for one of these alternative treatments,' and there are ... things coming along all the time, which means that you don't necessarily have to lose the prostate and all of that. But at the same time, I just thought ... 'Just get rid of it — next case.'"
Just a few months later, Lloyd Webber was back on the scene, opening the "Phantom" sequel "Love Never Dies" on the West End, and launching the BBC One series "Over the Rainbow" to find a lead for a London production of "The Wizard of Oz."
He went the same route to find a Canadian Dorothy with CBC-TV's "Over the Rainbow," which was won last month by Danielle Wade of La Salle, Ont.
Dorothy in the production "is quite a feisty little girl who is quite desperate to get away from Kansas and break away from home," said Lloyd Webber.
"So on that level she's got to have a certain amount of strength."
Taking inspiration from both the "The Wizard of Oz" 1939 classic film and the "Oz" books by L. Frank Baum, Lloyd Webber and longtime collaborator Tim Rice wrote four new songs for the production. Three of the new tunes are for the witches and the Wizard, who had no songs in the film, and one is to set up Dorothy's experiences in Kansas.
The ending of the stage show that's being launched here by Mirvish Productions posits that Oz really does exist, which harkens back to the book rather than the film.
"The book really is about the journey and that (Dorothy) discovers in a way that home is where she really wants to be. But she has an awful lot along the way," said Lloyd Webber.
"There are so many interpretations of what that book's all about and the one I really almost prefer is ... that there were an awful lot of these strange, mystic people around at the end of the 19th century, and I quite like to feel that the author really, in the end, was talking about a state of mind that Oz was."
Lloyd Webber said the Toronto production is bit simpler than the one in London, which had a revolving stage.
"But it looks wonderful. The tornado and everything is pretty good stuff."
The creative team has also streamlined some parts and made a few cuts for the Toronto production.
"Several people have said that when you do something, it's the second edition that counts," said Lloyd Webber, who is also busy with a U.K. arena tour of "Jesus Christ Superstar" that he wants to bring to Canada and the U.S. in fall 2013.
"The only musical that I've ever been involved with when not one note was changed from the first preview to the present day is 'Phantom of the Opera.' Not one thing — nothing at all.
"But every other show that I've been involved with, yes, of course you see things that you want to improve or you want to streamline."
The tone of the production has its dark moments.
"The flying monkeys are quite scary. I don't think you can duck that," said Lloyd Webber.
"But at the same time, it is a show for children, really. You might get a little bit scared when the witch comes flying over the audience but it's not scary scary."