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Making Her Own ‘Memory’ : After a break and new training, Sarah Brightman brings fresh style to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s songs.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; <i> Libby Slate writes regularly for The Times. </i>

Sarah Brightman, who stars in “The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber: A Concert Spectacular” at the Universal Am phitheatre tonight and Saturday sang another version of the show at the Shubert Theatre back in 1989. The role of Christine in Lloyd Webber’s “The Phantom of the Opera” was created for her. And she was even married to the composer, from 1984 to 1990.

But none of that means the songs she will perform are old hat to her.

“I wanted to get some perspective on things, so I went back to England to do some homework for a while,” says the London native by phone from New York shortly before beginning the Lloyd Webber tour. “I did four straight plays--two on the West End and two in repertory. I trained my voice in bel canto classical (style) in Italy, and did concerts with Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras. I wanted to have a fresh approach to Andrew’s music.”

The endeavors paid off. “I could never do ‘Memory’ (from ‘Cats’) before, because it was not written for my voice. Now I sing it--in Italian, a more classical way. I’ve been away from this music for four or five years, so I come to it with new ideas. From the acting standpoint, too, I’m hoping that doing the plays has helped in telling the story of the songs, though I find there is only so far I can go because I have to take consideration of the notes.”

Brightman performs about a dozen songs in the two-hour show, which also presents numbers by choral and dance ensembles, and suites played by a 36-piece orchestra. The repertoire includes selections from “Cats"--for which Brightman was an original cast member in London, “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Evita,” “Song and Dance,” “Aspects of Love,” “Sunset Boulevard” and, of course, “The Phantom of the Opera.”

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“I’m doing some things people have heard me do before, like ‘Song and Dance’ and ‘Phantom,’ ” Brightman says. “I’m doing a song in French called ‘Chanson d’Enfance,’ which started out as a small piece, 45 or 60 seconds, in ‘Aspects of Love’ that is now constructed as 3 1/2 or four minutes. And there’s ‘Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina’ (from ‘Evita’). I love becoming that character, even if it’s just inside my head.”

Her favorite number is the “Pie Jesu” from “Requiem.” “I love the piece,” she says. “It’s religious, spiritual, but difficult to sing. It’s a peaceful moment. I always feel grounded when I do it.”

The show features the premiere of a song co-written with Jim Steinman, “Whistle Down the Wind,” which is also the title of Lloyd Webber’s upcoming film musical. “It’s like a lullaby. In the film it will be sung by a child growing into a woman,” Brightman explains.

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She said there are those who wonder why she is singing in this show at all, considering the fact that she and Lloyd Webber are now divorced.

“We’re great friends,” she says. “We work together well, and we enjoy working together. We find that for people working with music it’s about creating. It’s like a responsibility for me to take a creation and put it forth to people. The relationship, what’s happened in the past, is not important enough to spoil the creativity.”

With Lloyd Webber the first person to have three musicals running simultaneously in London and New York--in 1982, 1988 and last year--just what is the appeal of those creations?

“The music works,” Brightman says. “When I’m given a new piece to sing, it settles in my system really quickly, goes the way I want it to go. It’s also challenging to sing--it doesn’t take you in a straight line, up and down. You’re continually going in new places. As for the public, I find it hard to be objective, because I’m the one doing it. You’d have to do market research!”

Or you could ask Dale Kristien, who played Christine for the entire Los Angeles run of “Phantom.” “Lloyd Webber writes beautiful melodies,” she says. “He just has a thing about melody that makes me want to soar. People would actually propose during ‘All I Ask of You.’ The music is highly romantic, the melody makes sense and it takes you places. It’s fun.”

Brightman has an album of Lloyd Webber music, “Surrender: The Unexpected Songs,” due out in about two weeks. Produced by the composer, selections include “With One Look” from “Sunset Boulevard,” sung in Italian; “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina,” in Spanish and “Gus the Theater Cat” from “Cats,” with Sir John Gielgud.

“It’s an interesting album,” she says. “It has a different feel to it.”

The same might be said of Brightman herself. She wants to continue acting in plays, and intends to continue to study bel canto and give concerts in the style overseas for another two years, then perform classical concerts in the United States. “I like doing a lot of things that keep me interested,” she says. “I just want to keep trying fresh challenges.”

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WHERE AND WHEN

What: “The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber: A Concert Spectacular,” starring Sarah Brightman.

Location: Universal Amphitheatre, 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City.

Hours: 8:15 tonight, and 2:15 and 8:15 p.m. Saturday.

Price: $20.25 to $37.75.

Call: (818) 980-9421 or (213) 480-3232.


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