Theater
2:27 am
Thu April 5, 2012

A Fruitful Collaboration Still Yielding Broadway Hits

Since they made their debut in 1971, it's been rare for Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice to not have a show on Broadway. But now they're ramping it up, with the opening of Evita following fast on the heels of Jesus Christ Superstar.

"It's actually just a coincidence as far as I can tell, because the two shows came from totally different sources," Rice says. "And by sheer chance, they've arrived within two or three weeks of each other on Broadway, which is fun!"

They're fancier now — Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber and Sir Tim Rice — but when they wrote these shows they were just Andrew and Tim, a couple of young, hungry songwriters who wanted to bring a rock 'n' roll energy to the musical stage.

Rice and Lloyd Webber were in their 20s when they wrote Jesus Christ Superstar. They met through a mutual acquaintance when they were teenagers, and wrote a little 20-minute school cantata called Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, which got them some notoriety. Lloyd Webber says they decided their next project would be biblical, too.

"We were toying around with various subjects, and I think it was the dean of St. Paul's Cathedral who said, 'Why don't you think about the story of Jesus?' " Lloyd Webber recalls. "And we kind of toyed with it and then thought, 'Maybe yes, maybe no.' "

Rice says what eventually made it a yes was a brainstorm: the idea of telling the story from Judas Iscariot's point of view.

"It's logical that he might've been worried about the man that he admired, and had joined, [that he] was kind of getting out of control," Rice says. "In the Bible, there is absolutely no motivation for Judas, other than that he is sort of a 100 percent figure of evil. And it seemed to me that that was probably not the case."

But both men say their idea was roundly rejected by theater producers, so they convinced their record company to release the musical as a double album.

"Thank God we did, because the fact that we made Superstar initially for record meant that we cut out the book," Rice says. "We hadn't actually written a book, but we were thinking of having a chat, so it might've been 'Hey, Judas, take a seat,' or whatever. I mean, it could've been awful. It worked so much better and was much less pretentious, if it was a sung-through work."

The record was a No. 1 hit in the U.S., and all of a sudden those producers who had rejected the show were clamoring to stage it. It got a rock arena tour, Broadway and West End productions, and was turned into a movie. And it has never really disappeared from stages around the world.

'I Thought We Were One-Hit Wonders'

It took the team more than half a decade to come up with their next show, Evita.

"Well, we had this megahit with Superstar," Rice says. "And how do we follow it up? You know, and we were now theatrical writers. And I think most people thought we were one-hit wonders. I thought we were one-hit wonders!"

The idea of doing a show about Eva Peron, wife of the Argentinian fascist dictator Juan Peron, came by coincidence — Rice heard a BBC radio documentary about her while driving to a dinner party. He decided to do some research, and found himself fascinated.

"I thought the idea that this woman of 33, who was from the sticks — working class, illegitimate — could've become the goddess of this big nation was quite extraordinary."

The revival stars Elena Roger, an Argentine actress, and Puerto Rico-born superstar Ricky Martin. Lloyd Webber says that when he wrote the score, he didn't know a lot about Argentine music.

"Although I tried to write 'Don't Cry for Me, Argentina' as a tango, and I did various other things, I can't say that I knew that much about it," he says. "So, when the chance came up to re-orchestrate it, by that time of course I was a lot more familiar — and so I've been able to do various things in the orchestrations that use some of the conventions that are in Argentine cafe music."

So the revival has a lot more accordion, guitar and tango rhythms.

After Evita, the two songwriters have worked only occasionally on some songs, but both get excited when asked about new projects with other collaborators. Rice has almost finished work on an adaptation of From Here to Eternity; Lloyd Webber has an idea for a new show based on the 1963 Profumo Affair — a sex-and-politics scandal that all but brought down the British government.

"It's such a kind of improbable idea for a musical that it intrigues me," he says.

Improbable indeed — much like a rock opera about Jesus Christ, or a Broadway musical about Eva Peron.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Since they first arrived on Broadway more than 40 years ago, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice have rarely not had a show running in a theater there. As of tonight they have two, revivals of their biggest hits, as "Evita" opens fast on the heels of "Jesus Christ Superstar."

The two reminisced with Jeff Lunden.

JEFF LUNDEN, BYLINE: They're now Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber and Sir Tim Rice. But when they wrote these shows they were just Andrew and Tim, a couple of young, hungry songwriters, who wanted to bring a rock and roll energy to the musical stage. Both of them were in New York to see the new productions imported from Canada and London and to give some notes, says Tim Rice.

LORD TIM RICE: It is extraordinary. It's actually just a coincidence, as far as I can tell, because the two shows came from totally different sources. And by sheer chance, they've arrived within two or three weeks of each other on Broadway, which is fun.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR")

UNIDENTIFIED CHORUS: (Singing) Jesus Christ, Superstar, do you think you're what they say you are? Jesus Christ, Superstar, do you think you're what they say you are...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Singing) Jesus, tell me. I only want to know...

LUNDEN: Rice and Lloyd Webber were in their 20's when they wrote "Jesus Christ Superstar." They met through a mutual acquaintance when they were teenagers and wrote a little 20-minute school cantata, called "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," which got them some notoriety. Lloyd Webber says they decided their next project would be biblical, too.

LORD ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER: We were toying around with various subjects. And I think it was the dean of St. Paul's Cathedral who said, why don't you think about the story of Jesus? And we kind of toyed with it and then thought, maybe yes, maybe no.

LUNDEN: Rice says what made it a yes was the idea of telling the story from Judas Iscariot's point of view.

WEBBER: It's logical that he might've been worried about the man that he admired and had joined, was kind of getting out of control. In the Bible, there is absolutely no motivation for Judas, other than that he is sort of a 100 percent figure of evil. And it seemed to me that that was probably not the case.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HEAVEN ON THEIR MINDS")

MURRAY HEAD: (As Judas Iscariot) (Singing) Jesus, you've started to believe the things they say of you. You really do believe this talk of God is true...

LUNDEN: But both men say their idea was roundly rejected by theater producers, so they convinced their record company to release the musical as a double album, says Rice.

RICE: Thank God we did, because the fact that we made "Superstar" initially for record meant that we cut out the book. And we hadn't actually written a book, but we were thinking of having a chat. So it might've been: Hey, Judas, take a seat, or whatever. I mean it could've been awful. It worked so much better and was much less pretentious, if it was a sung-through work.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I DON'T KNOW HOW TO LOVE HIM")

YVONNE ELLIMAN: (As Mary Magdalene) (Singing) I don't know how to love him, what to do, how to move him. I've been changed. Yes, really changed...

LUNDEN: The record was a number one hit in the States. And, all of a sudden, those producers who rejected the show were clamoring to stage it. It got a rock arena tour, Broadway and West End productions, was turned into a movie, and has never really disappeared from stages around the world. Both writers love the new high-tech revival.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GETHSEMANE")

IAN GILLIAN: (As Jesus Christ) (Singing) God, thy will is hard. But you hold every card...

LUNDEN: Tim Rice says it took the team more than half a decade to come up with their next show, "Evita."

RICE: Well, we had this mega-hit with "Superstar" and how do we follow it up? You know, and we were now theatrical writers. And I think most people thought we were one-hit wonders. I thought we were one-hit wonders.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BUENOS AIRES")

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: (Singing) What's new, Buenos Aires? I'm new, I want to say I'm just a little stuck on you You'll be on me too...

LUNDEN: The idea of doing a show about Eva Peron, the wife of the Argentinean fascist dictator Juan Peron, came by coincidence. Rice heard a BBC Radio documentary about her while driving to a dinner party. So he decided to do some research and found himself fascinated.

RICE: I thought the idea that this woman of 33, who was from the sticks – working class, illegitimate – could've become the goddess of this big nation was quite extraordinary.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DON'T CRY FOR ME, ARGENTINA")

ELENA ROGERS: (As Eva Peron) (Singing) Don't cry for me, Argentina. The truth is I never left you all through my wild days, my mad existence. I kept my promise. Don't keep your distance...

LUNDEN: The revival stars Elena Roger, an Argentinean actress, and Latino superstar, Ricky Martin.

Lloyd Webber says, when he originally wrote the score, he didn't know a lot about Argentinean music.

WEBBER: And although I tried to write "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina" as a tango and I did various other things, I can't say that I knew that much about it. So, when the chance came up to re-orchestrate it, by that time, of course, I was a lot more familiar. And so, I've been able to do various things in the orchestrations that use some of the conventions that are in Argentine café music, really.

LUNDEN: So there's a lot more accordion, guitar and tango rhythms in the revival.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ON THIS NIGHT OF A THOUSAND STARS")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: (As Magaldi) (Singing) On this night of a thousand stars, let me take you to heaven's door. When the music...

LUNDEN: After "Evita," the two songwriters have worked only occasionally on some songs together. But both get excited when asked about new projects with other collaborators. Rice has almost finished work on an adaptation of "From Here to Eternity." And Lloyd Webber has an idea for a new show based on a 1963 scandal which almost brought down the British government.

WEBBER: It's such a kind of improbable idea for a musical that it intrigues me.

LUNDEN: Kind of like a rock opera about Jesus Christ or a Broadway musical about Eva Peron.

"Evita" opens at the Marquis Theatre tonight. "Jesus Christ Superstar" continues performances at the Neil Simon Theatre.

For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York.

MONTAGNE: To hear more from Jeff's interviews with Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice and find out which comes first - the music or the lyrics - go to NPR.org.

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.

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