Andrew Lloyd Webber has spent a staggering five decades carefully crafting the beloved musicals he is known for today. Many of his 13 theatrical creations have gone onto receive critical acclaim and have earned him scores of awards. His almighty musicals are currently being shown for free every weekend during the coronavirus lockdown. They are being broadcast on YouTube channel ‘The Show Must Go On’ to entertain audiences across the country, while also fundraising for out of work actors and production staff. Despite Lord Webber’s undeniable success, the composer has also come under fire in the past for unusual castings. One of his most dangerous to date was opting for Phillip Schofield. The future ITV This Morning host would take on the lead in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat – despite his utter lack in experience.
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s risky move came after a successful run with Jason Donovan at the helm of the Biblical-inspired production.
He needed to find a six-week replacement for the Neighbours’ star, who was due a much-needed break after performing nearly every night since the show’s opening in 1991.
The composer had an unlikely casting in mind – a man without any musical theater experience, who had never set foot on a West End stage and most concerningly who he had never heard sing.
The candidate was an up-and-coming BBC presenter who had garnered a “huge young following” but had never acted in a professional production, if any show at all.
The details of this less than likely choice was detailed in Robin McGibbon’s 1992 biography ‘Phillip Schofield: The Whole Amazing Story’.
Lord Webber believed the emerging TV star could be perfect for the role based on his theory that “certain people are ‘Joseph types’”.
Mr McGibbon revealed that Phillip was “most definitely” that and added: “He had the look. He had the personality. He had the charisma.
“And more importantly, he had a huge young following – vital for what was essentially a children’s show.”
The one thing the composer didn’t know was: “Did Phillip have a good voice? And, if he did, would he be able to sing in front of 2,300 people, six nights a week.”
More than that, he would need to do it all on “the most famous theatrical stage in the world – the awesome London palladium”.
To answer this question, Lord Webber invited Phillip to audition for arguably “one of the most enviable opportunities in West End musical history”.
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Despite nerves getting to the young star as he performed at the Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith, West London, Lord Webber was “very impressed” by his vocal skills.
The “daunting” audition saw him freeze and struggle “to find his voice”, which when he did sing was described as “strong, clear and in perfect tune”.
Even though this was a positive sign there was a long and difficult road ahead for Phillip to become a hit – one where critics would be watching his every move.
Biographer Mr McGibbon explained that at that time a number of people including newspaper journalists “might be wanting to see him flop”.
He wrote: “Phillip was unconcerned that certain critics might be rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of knocking him off his pedestal the moment he sang off-key.”
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After the casting hit the headlines, life became “crazy” for Phillip as every part of his life was analysed and scrutinised.
Following the announcement, Phillip was “thrust into the national spotlight” as the public demanded to know more about the star in the build up to his damanding theatre run.
The two outcomes of his future portrayal were polar opposite – one of which would “rocket him to stardom”.
The other possibility was, as Mr McGibbon wrote: “Whether it would fizzle out into a damp squib and be savaged by the critics as a rare mistake by the millionaire with the musical Midas touch.”
The pressure of “humiliating himself” and potentially “setting back his TV career back years” led Phillip to make some drastic lifestyle changes.
With 68 days to go before he was on-stage, Phillip quit his 20-a-day cigarette habit, lost a stone and toned-up ready for the performance of a lifetime.
Biographer Mr McGibbon attended his debut at the London Palladium on January 13, 1992, which he described as “an unforgettable experience”
Against the odds, the hopes of numerous critics and his lack of musical theatre training, Phillip was “magnificent” and received a rapturous applause from the overwhelmed crowd.
He wrote: “Everyone was on their feet, cheering as he skipped through the cast to take his bow.
“It was a motivating ovation that not only bought out the goose bumps again, but also made the eyes fill.”
Despite the doubts of others, Phillip – true to the man he is today – remained humble and celebrated in a very modest way.
Mr McGibbon added: “He looked out to the audience almost stunned, with just an enormous smile.”
On the front row, a young girl reportedly held a sign that read “You’re Brill, Phil” which “her hero saw” and in response simply “beamed at her”.
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