It's hard to begrudge any award for artists. But the annual Kennedy Center honors have always been really just a lame attempt at an American knighthood. It's not surprising, then, that so many of the honorees turn out to be British or European (from Sir Paul McCartney to Luciano Pavarotti). Any artist who makes some contribution, I suppose, to culture here qualifies.
Each year they (and who are "they" anyway here?*) try to honor one artist in each genre, so this year the theatre nod goes to...Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber. The man certainly has helped generate lots of income for American theatre artists (and, more to the point, investors) on Broadway and on tour. His shows dominated the 80s on both shores and no doubt have already influenced a coming generation of aspiring writers of bad sung-through rock- (mock-?) Puccini musicals. But does the man need yet another title?
It's also a bit of a stretch to call him, as does Jacqueline Trescott in her Washington Post story,
a "musical theater innovator." I wonder how else the Kennedy Center will justify this award in their official citation. (I also can't wait for the closeup capturing the serene glow on Laura Bush's face as a children's choir, no doubt, sing "Memories.") So far we have this:
Kennedy Center Chairman Stephen A. Schwarzman, the New York investor, said, "Andrew Lloyd Webber has led a seismic change in our musical theater, becoming the most popular theater composer in the world..."
To be fair, "popularity" seems all that the Kennedy Center awards care to be about. Like knighthood, I suppose, the point is to make the country feel good and play it safe.
As for that "seismic change"...I'm sure many would like to have a go at what that has meant for the theatre. I would also advise Schwarzman to change the tense of that "has led" to the strictly past tense.
In case you're wondering, the other awardees are...
and Steven Spielberg
More on the official website here. Check out the Lord Webber official bio, where--I kid you not--the phrase "stuff of musical genius" is used.
*Ah. According to the Post: "The honorees are selected by the center's artistic committee, which includes Renee Fleming, Nathan Lane, Audra McDonald, Liam Neeson, Kevin Spacey and Dave Brubeck. The committee, along with previous honorees, made the decision with the center's board and George Stevens Jr., who created the Honors in 1978 with Nick Vanoff."