“Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music is everywhere,” sniffed Malcolm Williamson, Master of the Queen’s Musick, in 1992, “but then so is AIDS.” On the whole, AIDS gets a better press. As a spelling, “Musick” pretty well sums up the feelings not just of critics but also of Broadway insiders, all those Kern/Gershwin/Rodgers/Bernstein/Loesser/Styne/Sondheim fans who’ve watched aghast as he’s inherited by default. “Why,” Lloyd Webber once asked Alan Jay Lerner, “do people take an instant dislike to me?” “It saves time,” said Lerner.

Well, that’s the way Alan told it. Back in the days when he was writing My Fair Lady and Gigi, that sort of tart wit would have been in the script. But by 1986, when Lloyd Webber briefly turned to Lerner for help with Phantom of the Opera, musicals had...

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