Tim Rice: Evita was a bonkers idea – The Guardian

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Tim Rice
As the fantastic songwriter prepares to take Jesus Christ Super star on a 50th birthday trip, he speaks about penning hits, his idea for a brand-new musical– and drinking from Lloyd Webbers Georgian white wine glasses

“I really do not like people saying whatever is terrific,” Rice states, when I suggest that he might be a bit too, well, self-effacing for someone with 3 Academy awards. It wasnt written to be a hit tune, states Rice, it was composed as a political speech, to be delivered to the people by Eva at a window. “I breezed in and fitted the bill,” states Rice.” We wrote something amusing,” says Rice, “with a good long list of colours. “Freddie liked it,” states Rice.

Tim Rice had a hunch the Oscar was in the bag. He and Elton John had been accountable for 3 of the five elections in the best tune classification. As he walked on phase that night in 1995, after Can You Feel the Love Tonight from The Lion King won, the tall, a little awkward-looking English lyricist had no idea what he was going to state. So he drew a breath then chose, on an impulse, to thank his youth hero, Denis Compton. Nobody in the Hollywood audience had actually heard of the England and Middlesex cricketing all-rounder and his words were welcomed with a bemused silence.
Rice makes fun of the memory and places on a throaty American drawl to state the scene back phase when press reporters swarmed. “What motion pictures was this guy Compton in?” “Oh, I said, he remained in The Final Test.” “But what part did he play?” “Well, he played Denis Compton– and frankly, I thought he recorded the character effectively.” He chortles away, still roguish at 76 and ever the raconteur. But then Rice is at his finest informing stories. Theyre the secret to his craft. “A good story always motivates recommendations,” he states. And, over the past six years, Rice has actually composed some excellent words for the most significant names in music, from Freddie Mercury to Madonna. Mention his name, however, and people are most likely to think of him as part of a duo together with– or perhaps eclipsed by– Andrew Lloyd Webber. Yet as a lyricist, Rice has won 3 Oscars, two more than Lloyd Webber.Feel the love … with Elton John at the Oscars in 1995. Picture: Dan Groshong/AFP/Getty ImagesWhy isnt he more of a national treasure? “I truly dont like people stating everything is terrific,” Rice states, when I recommend that he may be a bit too, well, self-effacing for someone with three Academy awards. “I dont desire to entirely put myself down– because theres the frightening possibility that individuals might agree.” Exists anything he will say? “I think Im rather excellent at judging my product, partly since its only half mine in many cases.” Hes speaking to me from his six-acre country home near Henley-on-Thames in Oxfordshire, a leafy retreat he relocated to three years ago. Outside, the afternoon lights fading and his dog is restless for a walk. Rice has actually invested the day organising all the songs hes ever written– putting his house in order “in case I get hit by a bus next week”. Hes been struck by the number of never ever appeared in shows or movies: 145 in all. The majority of are beautiful average, he says, particularly the early ones. “Its made me realise just how much a program helps a tune.” I like a best rhyme. I dont like time and mine, or woman and worldNone more so than the hit musical Evita. A “bonkers” idea, he says, that pertained to him after hearing a radio program about Eva Perón, the attractive other half of Juan Perón, president of Argentina from 1973 to 74. The show made him drop everything and get on an airplane to Buenos Aires to do some research. “The finest stuff Ive composed is when I have characters and I understand what scenario theyre in– and I believe, What would I say because scenario?” Which is precisely how Dont Cry For Me Argentina, possibly his most well-known song, happened. “Had the tune been provided to me by Andrew and he d stated, Lets make this a hit tune for someone, I d have composed a quite typical lyric. But since it was being seen in a show– with this woman dressed to the nines, speaking to her working-class voters, the individuals that she claimed to represent– I had the ability to compose a different lyric that actually worked.” It hadnt crossed my mind that going to a musical was something I would delight in … the movie adaptation of Evita, starring Madonna. Picture: Moviestore Collection/RexThe powerful, lyrical result– “The reality is I never ever left you/ All through my wild days/ My mad presence/ I kept my pledge/ Dont keep your range”– went to No 1 in the UK. However it wasnt composed to be a hit song, says Rice, it was composed as a political speech, to be provided to individuals by Eva at a window. “Im old-fashioned,” he says, when asked how he crafted the words. “I like a best rhyme. I do not like time and mine, or woman and world.”
It wasnt always that way. As a kid growing up in Buckinghamshire, Rice had no interest in rhyming couplets, much less musicals. He wished to be a rock star. After leaving boarding school, he studied law because thats what he felt his parents desired, however he disliked it. “I failed my tests 3 times,” he says, adding that he d never even been to a program before, just panto. “It hadnt crossed my mind that going to a musical was something I would enjoy.” His life altered, he says, the day he met a 17-year-old called Andrew Lloyd Webber. He remembers it like yesterday: it was April 1965, at Lloyd Webbers family home, a flat in South Kensington, London. “Andrew invested cash on things like Georgian red wine glasses and paintings and classical records, which was amazing to me.” Watch a song from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat The two had been brought together by an agent because Lloyd Webber was looking for somebody to put words to his melodies. “I breezed in and fitted the bill,” states Rice. “Our distinctions helped us. Also, my relative lack of knowledge about musical theatre helped due to the fact that I wasnt so worried about doing what you ought to do.” Thus, perhaps, their very first cooperation, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, composed initially as a show for a school choir in London featuring an Elvis impersonator, who Rice played because very first production.
” We wrote something amusing,” states Rice, “with a good long list of colours. You can see why the kids liked it.” In fact, that huge number, Josephs Coat, wasnt totally written by Rice. “I simply ended it with red and yellow and green and brown.” Then the kids included another 20 colours of their own. “It simply worked– and its now among the most popular songs in the program. Individuals brag that they can recite all the colours.” The song has actually even been eternalized in a Simpsons episode.The musical taught Rice a valuable lesson. “Make your first program amusing,” he says. “Save the angst for later on.” It would take 5 years for the very first West End production of Joseph to open, an event enabled only by the success of the duos next scriptural partnership, Jesus Christ Superstar, a kitsch, flamboyant rock opera about the final week of Christs life. It catapulted the two into the huge time. It was ahead of its time … the 1973 film of Jesus Christ Superstar. Picture: Allstar/Universal PicturesThis year sees the 50th anniversary of the shows opening night. To mark this, the original double album is being rereleased, with interviews, outtakes, photos and a new book. Covid-permitting, the musical will go on tour, too. Rice is eager to get the original cast– those who are still alive, that is.” It led its time,” he says. “I do not believe any person had put a heavy rock band and an orchestra on Broadway at the exact same time.” It was initially composed as a studio album and, controversially, Rice offered understanding voices to Judas Iscariot and King Herod. The record was even prohibited– briefly– by the BBC for being sacrilegious. “No one on the radio played it,” he remembers. Ive written with a few of the greatest. Im rather happy with my lotBut it fared better in America, reaching No 1 in 1971, and a Broadway opening followed. “When we arrived in New York, we were treated like Led Zeppelin. It was amazing, it was odd.” He switches to his American accent again: “Weve got 24 interviews showing up, men. Were gon na do a big discussion on Fifth Avenue. Were gon na go to LA and Toronto and Chicago.”
Despite their big success, Rice and Lloyd Webber split in the 80s. While the composer was identified to make more mainstream musicals, Rice was drawn to the unconventional. He worked with Abbas Benny and Björn on Chess, a musical about the rivalry between 2 grandmasters, one American, one Russian. Later came a stint in Hollywood, dealing with Elton John and the author Alan Menken, composing songs for the Disney movies The Lion King and Aladdin.Elton was a “revitalizing change” due to the fact that he insisted on the lyrics being written prior to the music. “Initially, I was daunted. If he had something– anything– I could use, I asked Elton. He stated no, he wanted the words. Thats simply how Elton did things.” He stops briefly. “In the end, I think it assisted me.” Of all the numerous individuals he collaborated with, Rice has a soft area for Freddie Mercury. They got together thanks to the initial Evita, Elaine Paige, who had actually made an album of Queen covers. “Freddie enjoyed it,” states Rice. “And through that I learnt more about him. And out of the blue, he invited me to write a couple of tunes for his Barcelona album with Montserrat Caballé.” He let it all out on stage … Freddie Mercury And Montserrat Caballe. Picture: FG/Bauer-Griffin/Getty ImagesHe got to see a different side to the flamboyant Queen frontman, who passed away in 1991. “I saw Freddie more typically peaceful than going berserk. He had an extremely calm speaking voice. He let it all out on stage. I think we might have done something in theatre together, or opera even, had Freddie lived. It was so tragic.”
Rice certainly has no shortage of memories and these days, possibly since of Covid, he seems nervous to tie up loose ends. “Getting old is bit of a drag,” he states. Of his 145 unused tunes, Rice thinks he could take the finest 15 and turn them into a program.

Thu 14 Jan 2021 06.00 GMT

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