It’s taking a while for the arts and culture world to reopen following a year of COVID-19 lockdowns worldwide. In the UK, cinemas are welcoming film lovers, albeit at reduced capacity, and museums and galleries are open for those who book ahead of time and wear their masks. It’s not quite the same for theaters. Many touring companies and local venues have gone out of business permanently, unable to survive the past 15 or so months. The West End, the theater capital of the U.K., has no green light for reopening as of the writing of this post. If they are to reopen at limited capacity like cinemas, it remains to be seen if that’s even a viable option given the high running costs of your average musical production.
One theater impresario is taking a stand, however. Of course it’s Andrew Lloyd Webber. The man who brought us Cats, Phantom of the Opera, and a musical version of The Woman in White that almost killed Michael Crawford is reopening his theaters whether the government allows it or not.
In an interview with the Telegraph, Lord Lloyd Webber said that ‘We are going to open, come hell or high water.’ This will include the premiere of his newest musical, Cinderella, which features a book by recent Oscar winner Emerald Fennell. The U.K. government has said it will make a judgment soon on whether to proceed with the lifting of lockdown restrictions on 21st June.
Lloyd Webber, however, plans to make the Jellicle Choice on such decisions. He’s even ready to be a political prisoner for his cause, claiming ‘We will say: ‘Come to the theatre and arrest us!” He’s lamented that he may have to sell his six West End venues if the government does not relax its restrictions. ‘“If the government ignore their own science, we have the mother of all legal cases against them,’ Lord Andy continued. ‘“If Cinderella couldn’t open we’d go, ‘Look, either we go to law about it or you’ll have to compensate us.”
He’s right on some level. Theater and live performances have suffered immensely thanks to COVID and, at least in the U.K., government aid to ease the financial hemorrhaging has been extremely thin on the ground. Thousands of people will lose their jobs and an entire generation will be denied the vitality and enriching nature of art. It’s already a major problem in the U.K. thanks to the class gap.
But pardon me for not feeling entirely sincere about Lord Andy’s sudden cries of radical political protest. He is a former Tory Lord, after all. This is the guy who flew from America to London to vote in support of tax credit cuts for the working poor. How generous of a man with a reported 2019 net worth of £820 million. Nothing says ‘I support the little people’ like flying across the ocean to vote to kick impoverished Brits in the face. And to make it worse? Before that vote, the last time Lloyd-Webber voted in the House of Lords was two years prior. He’d only voted 30 times in the past 14 years, despite having had 1,898 opportunities.
But surely reopening his theaters will get people back to work? Ha. It was announced in April that Phantom of the Opera would return with half of its orchestra gone, leaving 13 musicians without work. They said this was a way to make the musical fresher — dude, I do not go to Phantom for freshness, I go for ’80s cheese! — and help keep the show going for touring productions. Sure, but your timing is interesting, eh, Andy?
Drop chandeliers on the rich.
Header Image Source: Cindy Ord // Getty Images via Madame Tussauds