For the recording of Requiem, his first major classical work, composer Andrew Lloyd Webber knew what he wanted in the way of talent. There’d be the English Chamber Orchestra, the Winchester Cathedral Choir, Placido Domingo singing tenor and young Sarah Brightman singing soprano.
Sarah Brightman seemed an odd choice. Even longtime Lloyd Webber pals wondered about it since Brightman, now 25, hardly packed the reputation of a leading prima donna. Apart from a few light opera roles, her principal credits consisted of two seasons in a British TV dance troupe, European success as a pop disco singer (best-known song: I Lost My Heart to a Star-ship Trooper) and an 18-month stint in the London production of Lloyd Webber’s hit musical Cats. It was at her audition for Cats that Brightman met the show’s composer, 13 years her senior, and in 1984 the pair married. Now it appeared that the man who had penned Cats’ score—as well as that of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream-coat, Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita—was about to forsake musical judgment in favor of marital goodwill.
Hardly. Pie Jesu, released as a single from the Requiem album and featuring the novice classical soprano, shot into the British Top 10 last April. The LP meanwhile has sold 250,000 copies and became Britain’s top classical record of 1985. This week Bright-man hopes to beef up her credits even more—with a Grammy Award as Best New Classical Artist.
The oldest of six children born to a real estate developer in Berkhamsted, England, Brightman had been pushed into performing by her mother, a homemaker. “Mum danced a little when she was younger but stopped because she had children,” says Sarah. “So she was always very ambitious for me.” Trained first in ballet and later at a London school for the performing arts, Brightman ventured out at 16 to try her luck with dance, disco singing and marriage before finally answering a 1980 audition call for Cats. “I remember thinking, ‘Why is Sarah Brightman auditioning for what is essentially an ensemble production?’ ” says Lloyd Webber of the well-traveled tryout. “We were all terribly intrigued, but we were also delighted.”
Lloyd Webber was even more delighted when he invited Sarah on a date in 1983. Before long, Brightman was flashing a diamond engagement ring. Trouble was, the can’t-miss king of musical theater seemed to have missed a couple of important details: Brightman’s still-extant marriage to Andrew Graham-Stewart, a businessman, and Lloyd Webber’s own 12-year union with the former Sarah Jane Tudor Hugill, mother of his two children.
While Fleet Street had fun with the profusion of Andrews and Sarahs, Lloyd Webber made a series of soul-baring statements to the press on the romance. “It wasn’t our fault that Sarah and I fell in love,” he told the Daily Express. “We talked and talked about what we should do about it. In the end I drew a line down a piece of paper and put on one side the ‘pros’ and on the the other side the ‘cons’ of us trying to get free to marry. The ‘pros’ came out only just ahead, but it was from that moment that I decided to tell my wife.” Sarah II quickly divorced Andrew I, while her mate-to-be, hoping to prevent a huge settlement with the first Mrs. Lloyd Webber, battled on stubbornly until eventually agreeing to pay more than a reported $750,000 in the divorce settlement. Finally in March 1984, on the day his new Starlight Express musical was set to open in London before Queen Elizabeth, the couple stole away for a secret wedding. That night the composer took his bows at the theater and then proudly introduced his new missus to Her Majesty.
Lloyd Webber and Brightman now divide their time between a 67-acre Berkshire estate and an elegant London duplex. The former boasts a 40-room mansion with a well-stocked wine cellar (10,000 bottles) and a collection of Pre-Raphaelite art. The duplex is in pricey Mayfair, where Lloyd Webber can visit his children, Imogen, 8, and Nicholas, 5, who live close by. First wife Sarah remarried “about a year ago,” says Lloyd Webber cheerfully. “To Jeremy something.”
A visitor to the London duplex finds a curious mix of French and English antiques, Chinese paintings on glass, 19th-century oils and modern water-colors. A cheap piano-shaped ashtray is plunked down on a Louis XV side table; a chipped earthenware coffee mug sits atop a George III butler’s table. The diversity seems to suit the inhabitants. Lloyd Webber, the rumpled resident of this bailiwick, sports the V-necked sweater, tie and tousled hair of an aging schoolboy. Brightman with her tumbling dark curls and dancer’s trimness could be cut from the canvas of one of the Pre-Raphaelite paintings.
On a grand piano in the drawing room sits a three-inch-thick music manuscript marked simply Phantom. It is Lloyd Webber’s latest work, a musical treatment of Phantom of the Opera that he hopes to open in London this June. “Any minute now the inexorable button will be pressed,” says Lloyd Webber, “and, as happens with a musical, the juggernaut will begin to roll, gathering speed and maiming people along the way.” Indeed, the title song from the musical has already been released as a single and risen to No. 7 on the British pop chart. Its singer is Sarah Brightman, who has already been cast for the stage production as well. In the show—as she now does in his life—”the role Sarah plays is a big one,” says Lloyd Webber happily.