The Poetic Tragedy of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Last Moments With His Son

It’s been a momentous time for Broadway legend Andrew Lloyd Webber. The curtains closed on The Phantom of the Opera, the longest-running show in Broadway history, this weekend after its 13,981-performance run, the iconic chandelier crashing to the stage accompanied by the organ’s screaming one last time. Just weeks before, the composer lost his 43-year-old son, Nick Lloyd Webber, on March 25 following an 18-month battle against stomach cancer. 

The 75-year-old Andrew published a heartfelt essay in the New York Times this week, where he was asked to ruminate on Phantom’s closing (it opened on Broadway in 1988, and debuted in London’s West End in 1986) and the future of Broadway, but wrote of his past and future, sharing details of the final moments he spent with his son in hospice the night before he died. 

Andrew Lloyd Webber at the 1990 opening of “Aspects of Love” with then-wife Sarah Brightman, son Nicholas Webber and daughter Imogen Webber.Ron Galella/Getty Images

It seems fitting that the father-son pair, both of whom have adapted works for the stage based on classic stories and poems (Phantom is based on the 1910 Gaston Leroux novel, while Cats was inspired by a collection of T.S. Eliot poems, and Nick co-wrote a stage adaptation of Antoine Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince, for example), exchanged quotes from British humorist P.G. Wodehouse among their parting words, according to Andrew’s essay. Even more fitting: Andrew composed a Wodehouse adaptation, By Jeeves. It bombed.

That night, Andrew offered up “an apple a day, if well aimed, keeps the doctor away” to his son in his hospice bed, he writes, while Nick had a quote of his own to comfort his father. Not about his illness, but about another agony of life: Bad reviews. Andrew’s 13th new musical, Bad Cinderella, opened on Broadway on March 23, and on March 24, the composer was on the receiving end of the official reviews. “First: Bring earplugs,” began the Times’ brutal notice, bearing the headline that “The Title Warned Us.” Andrew had missed attending opening night to be with his son in the U.K. The reviews were inescapable, no matter where he was.

Andrew writes: 

“Here’s one for you,” said Nick, laughing. He had surmised that, after bulletins from New York, his father, as Wodehouse might have put it, was less than gruntled. “Has anybody ever seen a dramatic critic in the daytime? Of course not. They come out after dark, up to no good.” We hugged and said our goodbyes.

The next day, my son died. Nothing’s worse for a parent than the death of a child. In my bones I feel it wrong to write about the closing of Phantom or where Broadway’s going right now.

But I’ll try.

He doesn’t mention Nick by name again in the essay, but while Andrew writes of childhood dreams and long decades in the wings, making music and creating distractions and stories for the world, the composer is unmistakably melancholy, hoping for a bright future for the Great White Way while worrying that financial reality may puncture the dream. In the end of the piece, he pleads for Broadway to not fall prey to worldwide franchising, to keep it special and sacred, the place where he and fellow legend Hal Prince made their names. 

It’s not just about his son, certainly, and it’s not just about Phantom, but, as Andrew succinctly puts it, “This has been a season of goodbyes, personal and public.”

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