In a letter to today's Daily Telegraph (below), Lloyd Webber takes aim at the paper's critic Tim Walker, who recently said the subject matter of Stephen Ward was too obscure to appeal to a broad audience.
Walker wrote: "...how many people are there under 50 who have heard of Jack Profumo, let alone Ward, the osteopath who introduced the War Secretary to Christine Keeler and precipitated the fall of Harold Macmillan's government? What will the name Stephen Ward mean, too, to the Americans and all the other tourists who make up a good proportion of the audiences in the West End every night?"
Walker also claimed that Jeffrey Archer, a potential investor in the show, was put off by there being "no one else around [Lloyd Webber] with equal stature to point out that maybe this or that isn't working".
In reply, a clearly riled Lloyd Webber writes:
Tim Walker suggests that if there had been people of equal stature around me, I would never have written about such an uncommercial subject as Stephen Ward. Ignoring that the show's director is Sir Richard Eyre, the former head of the National Theatre, the producer is Robert Fox and the writers are both Oscar winners, Mr Walker suggests that Jeffrey Archer (who incidentally proposed to me no fewer than 14 titles for the show) might have questioned the commerciality of the subject matter.
The difference between success and failure in musical theatre is a horrifyingly fine line. However, I believe that if you choose a subject purely because it appears commercial, catastrophe looms.
If money was the only goal, would I have embarked on a musical (strangely not mentioned by Mr Walker) that was inspired by an anthology of poems by a dead poet (and not lyrics by Tim Rice), was directed by a commercially untried director from the Royal Shakespeare Company, was presented by a young producer who had had no major West End hit, which featured dance heavily at a time when it was perceived that West End dancers had two left feet and certainly couldn't sing and dance at the same time, was opening in a graveyard theatre in which even Grease, starring Richard Gere, had flopped, was to open with most of its investment missing - causing me to take a second mortgage on my house - and, worse still, featured human beings dressed as cats?
We are all immensely proud of Stephen Ward. But what makes a hit musical? Fools give you reasons, wise men never try.
Do you think Stephen Ward was too obscure to be commercially successful? Let us know in the comments below