Biographyby Siew May Chin [Source: sarah-brightman.com]
I. SARAH'S EARLY YEARS:
1960 - 1981
Sarah Brightman was born an entertainer. From the tender age of three, she was dancing at festivals in her hometown of Berkhamsted, a sleepy market town outside of London. By age five, she was performing up to four routines and winning them all.
It was her ballet teacher, an examiner for the Royal Academy of Ballet, who made her parents aware that Sarah was unusually gifted. As such, Sarah’s show business aspirations were regarded not as childhood fantasy, but as precocious ambition, deserving of regard and nurture.
Despite severe bouts of homesickness, she enrolled in a performing arts boarding school at age eleven and was well on the way to furthering her dreams at that pre-pubescent age.
As a child, Sarah was exposed to an eclectic assortment of music, for hers was a household where Tom Jones and Tchaikovsky got equal billing and airtime. Sarah was just as happy twirling around in the kitchen to psychedelic pop as she was executing ballet maneuvers to serious classical movements.
It is perhaps not surprising that decades later, Sarah Brightman would break musical ground by fusing seemingly incongruous genres; gliding seamlessly between pop and classical, dance and trip-hop, Gregorian chants and Eastern refrains. Even her gravitation towards Gregorian chants can be traced back to her years of singing in Berkhamsted's church choir.
Tuneful choir voice notwithstanding, the assumption by all concerned had been that Sarah would be a professional dancer. But it was not until Sarah's performance at the age of twelve at her boarding school that her singing aspirations truly took root.
Paula, her mother, recalls:
I really didn’t know how good her voice was until I saw her sing at an end of term concert. She stood up on stage, with braces and all, and sang something from “Alice in Wonderland.” It was so beautiful, I felt sick. She hit such high notes that the audience was stunned. They completely fell for her. It was absolute magic, and obvious, from that moment on, that singing would be her calling.
With Sarah's obvious gift for singing, acting and dancing, it didn’t take very long for her to catch the attention of school officials. After just a year there, she was sent out to the Piccadilly Theatre to audition for I and Albert, a new John Schlesinger musical.
Sarah clinched two roles -- that of Vicky, Queen Victoria’s eldest child, and a street waif -- and was ecstatic. After all, a major role in a West End production helmed by a famous director was hardly an everyday occurrence for a twelve-year old. I and Albert effectively extinguished her interest in academics, injecting in her a voracious, lifelong craving for the stage.
In the succeeding years, the teenage Sarah spent her summers modeling and strutting around on catwalks, draped in garb that ran the gamut from cheap to chic -- Woolworth jeans one day, Dior haute couture and Vogue photo sessions the next.
At the age of sixteen, she landed a coveted spot in Pan's People. As the resident dance troupe of BBC Television’s top-rated hit-parade show, Top of the Pops, this all-girl group ruled the airwaves, attracting a rabid and devoted following. Even though BBC's new lineup meant that Pan's People would no longer grace the hit show, nothing could be more glamorous to a dancer than becoming a Pan’s Person.
Induction into the group required, however, that Sarah drop out of school, which was precisely what she did, despite pronounced parental trepidation. No one could have predicted then that this risky move would, in time, pay off so handsomely for Sarah and her legions of fans.
Before long, Sarah was spotted by choreographer Arlene Phillips (who would later go on to choreograph hits like Annie, Starlight Express and Lord of the Dance) and was invited to audition for Hot Gossip, the sultry dance troupe with a weekly slot on Thames Television’s Kenny Everett Show. Arlene was looking for new recruits with the sex appeal and risqué moves necessary to complement the show’s irreverent, no-holds barred format. So raunchy were the routines that they actually incurred the wrath of morality watchdog groups.
But distracting as the furor surrounding the troupe’s come-hither titillation may have been, it could not detract from the fact that Hot Gossip pioneered cutting-edge dance moves and quick edits, spawning routines and techniques that are still very much a staple in choreography today.
In the meantime, Sarah had been recording demo tracks on her own, one of which caught the attention of a producer at Hansa Ariola, a label handling disco artists like Donna Summer and Boney M. He was looking for the right voice for Jeffrey Calvert's “I Lost My Heart to a Starship Trooper.”
It was a track laden with every conceivable space exploration cliché in the book but was, nonetheless, perfect for appeasing the late-seventies appetite for mylar and flying saucers. Sarah was quickly signed on. (Jeffrey Calvert and Sarah would eventually form their own label, Whisper, and release two singles together, "My Boyfriend's Back" and "Not Having That").
“Starship Trooper” was released in December 1978, and became an instant hit, selling half a million copies and reaching number six on the British Hit Parade. It was exhilarating for Sarah, who had always been a chart-watcher, to observe her own meteoric rise.Sexy, radical and hip, "Sarah Brightman and Hot Gossip" became a phenomenon, and the teen idols were soon endorsing clothes, shoes, hair products and the like. Royalties started pouring in and at eighteen, Sarah commenced the life of a pop star.
It was during this heady time that Sarah first met Andrew One (who is not to be confused with Andrew Two, that impossibly successful musical theatre impresario). After a quick courtship, Sarah married Andrew Graham Stewart. Seven years her senior, Andrew was the manager of Tangerine Dreams, a German psychedelic rock band signed to Virgin.
Eventually, Sarah left Hot Gossip and auditioned for a role in a new musical, one with a decidedly curious theme: Cats. It was also where she would meet Andrew Two...
by Siew May Chin [Source: sarah-brightman.com]
II. SARAH'S MUSICAL THEATRE ERA: 1981-1990
Scarcely two lines into her song at the Cats audition, Sarah was stopped short and told that she had earned a personal meeting with Andrew Lloyd Webber at his home. The next day, an aide called and summoned Sarah to Andrew's flat.
The Cats audition had called for performers who regarded themselves as “unusual.” Sarah rather ostensibly fit the bill, arriving in conservative Belgravia flamboyantly attired in aquamarine and crowned in a blue mohican hairstyle. Her rendition of “Don’t Rain On My Parade,” followed by “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina,” visibly impressed Andrew who promptly arranged for a series of further auditions with Trevor Nunn.
Months lapsed, however, before Sarah finally got the news that she had been offered a role in Cats. Some year later, Gillian Lynne, the choreographer for Cats (appearing on This Is Your Life, a British celebrity-tribute show honoring Sarah) remarked:
She danced with such sensuality and determination. Nobody taught Sarah her guts. In Cats, everyone kept hurting themselves because it was difficult... and Sarah kept putting her neck out. I'd say, "Do you think you should do the Jellicle Ball... all twelve minutes of it... again?" And she'd say, "Yes, I’m not going to sit down, I’m not going to sit down." And so she'd dance, with her head cocked to one side in pain.
Sarah played Jemima and was given a small vocal solo part in the hit song, "Memory." Despite the fact that the role showcased more of her dancing prowess than her vocal abilities, Sarah recognized that her voice possessed a "star quality" that she would do well to hone. It was at this time that she started vocal lessons with reknowed coaches — Elizabeth Hawes, head of voice at the Trinity Music College in London till 1986 and subsequenty with Ellen Faul, head of voice at Julliard in New York.
After a year in Cats, Sarah left to play the title role in Charles Strauss' children's opera, Nightingale. Enticed by a rave review, Andrew went to watch her in the show one evening and was flabbergasted. It seemed inconceivable that he could have missed such vocal talent when she'd been in his show for a year. It would be an awakening that would alter more than just his perception of her. It would alter the course of their careers and lives.
Their relationship, which had hitherto been professional and circumscribed to cast parties and the like, blossomed rapidly into a serious romance. Both were married at the time: he to a different Sarah and she to a different Andrew. Their romance, respective divorces and high-profile marriage provided sensational fodder for the English tabloid press. Indeed, the media scrutiny of their relationship was surpassed only by the intense coverage of Prince Charles and Lady Diana at the time.
In the years that followed, Andrew produced a number of Sarah's projects, including "Him." Adapted from Hubert Parry's "Dear Lord and Father of Mankind," (Richard Stilgoe penned the lyrics), the music may have originally had spiritual origins but the curiously erotic music video, featuring Sarah, surely dispelled such notions. "Him" was released as a single but it was the video that probably created more of a stir.
Sarah's next major undertaking was a live performance of Andrew's Song and Dance, taped for video release in 1984. Although she had not been in its original West End cast, executives at RCA/Columbia, who commissioned the video for the US market, wanted Sarah to star in it. Taken by her appearance on The Merv Griffin Show, they were convinced that she was just right for American audiences.
The material did not show off Sarah's three-plus octave range and effortless high-D, but her performance garnered rave reviews anyway. Daily Telegraph's John Barber wrote, “This could be a new 'star' — not a word I use lightly.” His assessment proved prophetic as the project resulted not only in a home video but an LP, a single ("Unexpected Song"), BBC and American television broadcasts... and indeed, a star.
Scarcely a year later, Sarah's crystalline recording of "Pie Jesu" rocketed up the charts, selling 25,000 copies on the first day of release and peaking at number 3; no mean feat for a song in Latin. With classical music permeating the Lloyd Webber household (Sarah was in heavy operatic training at the time), Andrew was move to write the Requiem Mass as a tribute to young victims of war. Its Manhattan premiere, starring Placido Domingo and Sarah Brightman, was filmed by both PBS and the BBC for later broadcast. The LP eventually became UK's top selling classical album of the year and earned Sarah a Grammy nomination as "Best New Classical Artist."
Sarah continued to perform the Requiem in other parts of the US, even as she played the role of Valencienne in The Merry Widow for the New Sadler's Wells Opera in London. This entailed not only physically shuttling from one continent to the other, but vocally shuttling between soprano (in Merry Widow) and soprano de colorutura (in Requeim). Demanding as this was, it was but a warmup for Sarah as her soprano voice would, a year later, take the spotlight in a musical that, to this day, remains a global phenomenon.
Back in 1984, Sarah had been offered the role of Christine in a small East London play of Phantom of the Opera. Sarah eventually turned it down, but not before she had consulted with Andrew, who quickly became obsessed with the idea. It seemed the perfect vehicle for his next musical. At last he could write an entire show for his wife and muse, one that would finally and fully exploit her stunning vocal range.
David Caddick, Phantom's conducter, was in later years, quoted as saying:
What is amazing about Sarah is that she has two voices, really. She can produce a pop, contemporary sound, but she can also blossom out into a light soprano. The soprano part of her voice can go up to an E natural above high C. She doesn’t sing it full out, but it is there. Of course, she has to dance while she is singing some of the time, so it’s all the more extraordinary.
Phantom of the Opera opened at the Majesty's Theatre on Oct 9, 1986, to unprecedented crowds and acclaim. The fact that the show had already spawned three Top Ten hit singles even before opening night did not hurt. The title track featured Sarah with Steve Harley and "All I Ask of You" with Cliff Richard. The third hit featured Michael Crawford on "Music of the Night." The show was a runaway success on the West End and for six months, Sarah performed the role of Christine to considerable critical acclaim. This included extended periods when she performed all eight shows a week, instead of the usual, more humane, six.
A year later, Sarah reprised her role on Broadway. It was, however, a move which would prove contentious, as the American Actor's Equity union stood firm on their policy of hiring only Americans for the roles. Sparks flew over the Atlantic as Andrew fumed at the prospect that the inspiration of his masterpiece would not be allowed to star in it. It was not until he issued an ultimatum (no Sarah means no Phantom on Broadway) that the deadlock was broken; Sarah would be allowed to perform if Andrew agreed to cast an American actor in his next London production. In the end, it was a compromise that more than paid off. Phantom chalked up a staggering $17 million in advance sales prior to opening night on Jan 28, 1988, and generated a public and media frenzy that is unmatched since.
In the brief hiatus between the two Phantom productions, Sarah completed a series of projects. The first was a studio recording of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel. She also released "Doretta's Dream" (the theme from Room With A View), followed by The Trees They Grow So High, a collection of folksongs arranged by Benjamin Britten.
Almost as soon as she left the Broadway production of Phantom (American Actor's Equity had limited her stint to six months), she embarked on a whirlwind global tour of The Music of Andrew Llyod Webber. Playing to sold-out crowds, the tour started in England in the fall of 1988 and eventually spanned the breadth of Canada and the US through the fall of 1989. Having spent a considerable time originating the role of Christine in Phantom, Sarah relished the opportunity to play herself again (to the extent possible, considering that this was a retrospective of Andrew's greatest hits). At the very least, singing numbers from a variety of shows — including Evita, Song and Dance, Cats and of course, Phantom — was mildly liberating. Her performances were greeted with much accolade, both from the public and press.
Undaunted by the stress of the touring concert production, Sarah managed to perform Requiem in the Soviet Union, participate in a Save the Children charity show, release a single and record two solo albums during this period... all in between shows.
The single released was the emotive "Anything But Lonely" from Andrew's new musical, Aspects of Love. Due to the reciprocal agreement with the American Actor's Equity, Sarah could not be cast in the original London production of Aspects, but did later take on the role of Rose on Broadway.
"Anything But Lonely" was followed a month later by the release of a solo album, The Songs That Got Away, an anthology of fifteen songs that were forgotten despite their pedigree — they had either flopped or been dropped from shows written by the likes of Irvin Berlin, Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, Noel Coward, and yes, even indomitable Andrew. Sarah had performed "Half A Moment" from Andrew's short-lived musical Jeeves at the Barbican some years backs and had been stunned by the rapturous reaction from the audience. Surely, she surmised, there must be other failed musicals with winning songs. Thus began a project of gargantuan proportions, involving exhaustive research and the help of composers from both sides of the Atlantic. The resulting list of a hundred songs was eventually winnowed down to the fifteen that were recorded.
In real life, sadly, it was not the songs that got away, but the marriage. The unrelenting recording sessions and touring schedule, coupled with prolonged absences from Andrew had taken an irreparable toll on their marriage. By the summer of 1990, the official announcement came that it was over. Incredibly, their personal turmoil did not unseat the deep professional regard they obviously had for each other. Scarcely one month after the final divorce proceedings, Sarah was working with Andrew again, this time playing the lead in Aspects on Broadway.
Her work in Aspects notwithstanding, Sarah steeled herself and set forth to find her own footing. Perhaps the most poignant declaration of independence came in the form of her second solo album from this period, an eclectic but personal collection of folk-rock songs that she had hand-picked. It was a departure from musical theatre and indeed, a departure from Andrew himself. More tellingly, the album bore a most prescient title: As I Came of Age...
by Siew May Chin [Source: sarah-brightman.com]
III. SARAH'S SOLO CAREER: 1990-Present
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