Part I – Andrew Lloyd Webber
The thesis of this article is that artists of contemporary culture, particularly in the literary area, are intuitively creating influences to set aside the barriers to higher consciousness, to provide insight that ushers the experience of it into the collective consciousness of humanity. The human condition can be interpreted as a call to greater freedom, meaning, and purpose, beyond the known boundaries of experience, and yet, always known. Many artists are keenly aware of this, and they reveal it to the masses in an act of true spiritual service.
Let us begin with Webber. He was a genuine prodigy as a boy, but an unusual one. He preferred playing his own tunes on the violin to those of any other during the time he was a student. He prepared the first version of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” (1967) at the request of Colet Court Preparatory School in London when he was only 19.
Working for the first time with Tim Rice, Webber brought forth one of the most spiritually profound dramas in the Bible. He translated it into a contemporary idiom and made it available to an array of generations in the 20th Century.
The simple idea of forgiveness and the idea of how reality can shift from what we think we know, are themes that prepare the intellect to be receptive to a greater awareness of ultimate reality. These are the themes of the story of Joseph, son of Jacob/Israel, of the coat of many colors.
More than that is the phenomenon of dreams - dreams that transcend rational linear thinking. We all have dreams, and modern man and woman are all too ready to forget the activities of the mind in the sleeping state. Yet, the dream state is one of the most insistent indications that consciousness is more than a finite awareness of a finite reality.
In “Jesus Christ Superstar” (1969), Webber poses a question that even the most pious, even the most liberal theological inquiries have glossed over: what did Judas think of Jesus? In creating a production that moves the audience through the story of Jesus’ ministry and passion, Webber puts the audience into the viewpoint of Judas, questioning who is Jesus, and who does Jesus think he is? At last, after two thousand years, western culture is brought to an examination of Jesus Christ’s life in a secular arena. And the emphasis that Webber gives is on the wonder, the inscrutability, of Jesus to our paradigm of relationship. We are left to ponder what can be our relationship with someone whose mission it is to love everyone and sacrifice all. To think on these things - love for all people and willingness to sacrifice, moves the mind forward in compassion and inclusiveness. These are the fruits of higher consciousness.
In “Cats” (1981), Andrew Lloyd Webber takes on the most mystical of poets in the post-modern era, T. S. Elliot. Who could ever have imagined that someone would create a theater production for the general public based on the poetry of T.S.Elliott? The concept itself is outside the box. And to pull it off in grand style is practically unbelievable. And yet here it is.
Children’s dancing schools are doing reprises of the numbers from the production. Community theaters all over the world are producing it with enchantment. It runs longer than any production in the history of the West End. Why? What human element is it touching that is so engaging and so arresting?
It is existentialism in its most richly dramatized, metaphorically illustrative, mysteriously intuitive, and musically lilting, revelation: existence in its suchness. And this, cats know. Well, we can imagine that they do, at any rate. T. S. Elliott, in projecting the secret knowledge of existence on to cats, paves the way for this experience of enlightenment via theater. Webber gives expression in the dimension of acting and music, to this secret knowledge of existence, to this mystery of what it is to be a conscious entity, to this dimension of consciousness that is memory, to this arbitrary miracle of existence that the Buddhists refer to as “suchness.” It is in the surrender of personal consciousness to the transpersonal arbitrariness of reality that mystical experience is born.
Next installment: Metaphysical Analysis of “The Phantom of the Opera”