A Tim Rice musical is never very far away but one of the lesser known is now on at the Union Theatre. It is Blondel, the first show he wrote after his split from Andrew Lloyd Webber. A few years ago we revisited an interview that Tim Rice gave us back in 1980 which was just after Evita had opened in the United States (to see that interview simply go to http://overtures.org.uk/?p=2154 ) it is an interesting article as it shows his own independent view on the state of the musical at that time.
Tim Rice’s career after Evita is an intriguing insight to one of the most successful of modern day lyric writers in the world. As he said in the early interview: a lyricist has to wait for a project to come along, you cannot write lyrics in the hope that they may be able to be used in the future as, for instance, a composer can.
The collaboration with Lloyd Webber had ended with Jeeves, a show that had taken Rice’s interest to start with as a lover of Wodehouse but after a time left him with the view (at that stage correctly) that it was impossible to do. Andrew Lloyd Webber replaced him with Alan Aykbourn. The show he moved on to was Blondel, a retelling of the royal battle between Richard the Lion Heart and his brother John at the time of the third crusade, told with the help of a court minstrel – a pop star of the day. While a royal romp Rice’s book (he wrote both book and lyrics) does look at the politics of the day. His musical collaborator was Stephen Oliver. It re-opened the Old Vic after its extensive refit in 1983 with the then Queen Mother attending the opening night. It ran for almost two years but has seldom been revived, although there was a re-write for an American showing a few years ago under the title Lute.
The next year came Chess in a collaboration again close to Tim Rice’s pop instincts and love. It was the ABBA composers Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus who worked on another politically centred piece built around the game of Chess. It opened in 1984 and was a major hit in London even after the terrible setback of the original director Michael Bennett having to give up the role because of his Aids associated illness (although at the time this was not mentioned). Broadway received a much changed and inferior version and it was a flop. However, Chess never seems to have died and various productions and concert versions are often seen. In many respects the original version was Tim Rice’s best work.
There was a short re-unite with Lloyd Webber to write a half hour one act fun piece called Cricket – again built on a favourite (if not the favourite) game of Sir Tim. It was written for the Queen’s Jubilee and has only been seen by her and her invited quests and at Lords Cricket Club, again with a very strictly invited audience.
The impact of Les Miserables was great and immediately anything written by French concert or theatre writers was looked at for possible English language working. The French musical Starmania by composer Michel Berger, a major hit across France, with several recording issued, was given new lyrics by Tim Rice and the show retitled Tycoon. It was released on CD and had a brief American showing and one in Paris but otherwise has disappeared.
In 1991 Tim Rice began his ongoing association with Hollywood and Disney when asked to write the lyrics for The Lion King. Under his suggestion Elton John was chosen as composer. The film was released in 1994, the same year he was commissioned to write nine new songs for the stage version of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. The original movie score had been written by Alan Menken whose lyricist Howard Ashman had died. The show was a hit around the world and its success brought a realisation to the Disney Organisation that there was a huge potential in their vast catalogue of animated movies as musical theatre pieces. Because of Howard Ashman’s death he also finished off the film score of Aladdin and more recently additional material for the stage version.
The Lion King had been one of Disney’s biggest grossing films and it was the next to be chosen for a remake. Additional songs were added and a whole new theatrical concept was brought by director Julie Taymor. It has, since its 1997 stage debut, become the most financially successful Stage / Movie property – even beating Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera.
Sir Tim’s collaboration with Alan Menken also brought King David, a stage show produced by Disney in concert form in 1997. Disney’s next direct to stage piece was Aida which re-united Rice and Elton John that was successful on Broadway in 2000. Strangely this never crossed the Atlantic.
Rice and John continued to collaborate for the Dreamwork’s film The Road to Eldorado.
Away from the world of film he worked on the Cliff Richard vehicle Heathcliffe with composer John Farrar. He wrote additional songs for The Wizard of Oz with Lloyd Webber and saw his first collaboration with him, The Likes of Us, at last produced, albeit for a radio production and for the Lloyd Webber’s Sydmonton Festival.
With all this success as well as three Tony Awards and three Oscars his last stage show was not a runaway hit and ran just over six months. That was From Here to Eternity based on the James Jones book which had already been made into a successful film. The film version had toned down much of the sexuality of the original which the stage version was able to restore. From Here to Eternity opened in 2013. It has music by Stuart Brayson. A DVD was issued on the show and it is reported than Tim Rice is planning an American production.
Sir Tim Rice is well known on radio and television. He still keeps his Guinness Book of Pop Singles up-to-date and remains a man close to pop as well as theatre and film. A rampant heterosexual he seems happiest playing the upper class Englishman watching a game of cricket.
Rexton S Bunnett