According to “American Idol,” Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber is responsible for some of the most “important” musicals of all time.
Wow. That’s pretty big. Step aside, Rodgers and Hammerstein. Back of the bus, Stephen Sondheim. The man who brought us Starlight Express and Catsis assuming the position of importance.
It’s undeniable that Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice helped Broadway take the next post-Hair step toward a more contemporary, rock-influenced sound with Jesus Christ Superstar. But with shows such as Cats and The Phantom of the Opera, Lloyd Webber’s two biggest hits, popular shouldn’t be confused with important.
Lloyd Webber was the “mentor” on Tuesday’s “American Idol” as the remaining six contestants trotted out shiny Lloyd Webber show tunes in the hope of making it to the Top 5.
I know who would make it into my bottom two:
1. Jason Castro (right), whose inability to speak in sentences or use actual words during the brief interview segment makes me think he’s not much brighter than his dreadlocks. Who else but a dim bulb would choose to sing “Memory” from Cats, probably the most popular, most over-sung show tune of the last 25 years? He didn’t have the voice for it, he didn’t make a dramatic connection, and he didn’t make an original arrangement (the way Israel Kamakawiwoʻole did with “Over the Rainbow” and which Castro cribbed in its entirety a few weeks back) that was more suited to his laidback style.
2. Brooke White stopped the orchestra then started again. Oops. Second time she’s done that this season, and it’s one time too many. She sang the Oscar-winning “You Must Love Me” from the movie version of Evita. It was a dramatic attempt (she sure displayed drama hands) but not successful. It’s not a great song by any means. She should have done a tango-infused “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina.”
The rest of the kids did OK. Sayesha Mercado (above) sizzled with a lousy song — “One Rock ‘n’ Roll Too Many” from Starlight Express (not exactly a font of fantastic tunes). She showed personality and sex appeal, and the judges agreed she’d be great on Broadway. No question. Somebody make some calls.
Carly Smithson got to rock it a little with “Jesus Christ Superstar” and did a screechy good job. David Cook turned “The Music of the Night” from The Phantom of the Opera into something that wasn’t boring. He didn’t rock it out, as he has with other songs in the last few weeks, which was an interesting choice. He also mentioned that he grew up doing musical theater. Makes me like him even more. The last few notes of the song were thrilling.
And little David Archuleta, for me, was the one to beat because he was the only one to make one of ALW’s songs contemporary. Archuleta’s version of “Think of Me” from Phantom came across as something that could be on the radio right now. It actually sounded a lot like what the British boy band Boyzone did with “No Matter What” from Lloyd Webber’s Whistle Down the Wind.
There was a lot of talk about how difficult it would be for the Idols to perform show tunes because show tunes are so complicated, and judge Simon Cowell (left with Sir Andrew) has already shown his disdain for the “Broadway” sound (which he lumps in with the sound of cruise ships, cabaret and theme parks). But Lloyd Webber isn’t complicated. He has melodies, that’s for sure. But wouldn’t it be interesting to see what the Idols would do with the songs of Stephen Sondheim? Or Michael John La Chiusa? Or Jason Robert Brown? Or Ricky Ian Gordon? Or Adam Guettel?
Now that would be a show tune challenge I’d like to see.