Rice and Lloyd Webber: The row resurrected

Their last major music collaboration was in 1976 – and now the two are at daggers drawn over a new reality TV show

It was one of many attempts to reunite the most successful music and lyric-writing partnership in musical theatre. If Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice could just be locked in a room together, with an upright piano, surely they could put aside their disagreements and spark the magic which broke global box office records with hits including Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Evita?

Robert Stigwood, the legendary theatre producer, looked on hopefully as the pair enjoyed a wine-fuelled dinner and repaired to the music room at Rice's country house. Lloyd Webber sat at the piano and unveiled the title music for his latest brainwave, an operetta based on The Phantom Of The Opera.

Stigwood recalls: "Silence from Tim. Andrew played it again... da-dah-dah-dah. Tim speaks. 'Most boring music you've ever written'. End of meeting."

That encounter 25 years ago failed to lift the velvet curtain which continues to divide a duo whose strained relationship has exploded in the most public manner. On this occasion Rice, 67, declared his hostility to Lloyd Webber's new television search to find a lead for an arena tour revival of Jesus Christ Superstar. Forty years ago the biblical-themed collaboration between the pair, now titled Sir Tim Rice and Lord Lloyd-Webber, became their first success.

But the lyricist, winner of three Oscars, 12 Ivor Novello awards and a haul of Grammys, Tonys and Golden Globes, called the peer's forthcoming ITV television series Superstar "tasteless" and "tacky".

He complained that his former writing partner, with whom Rice, then an aspiring record executive at EMI, first teamed up with in 1965, had refused to take his concerns seriously and threatened to veto the winning singer.

Sir Tim said: "I've had several meetings with Andrew and said that I don't want this done, but now it appears it's been signed and sealed.

"Andrew wants to rehash things all the time, but I really don't think Superstar needs that tasteless reality television treatment.

"Those shows are relentlessly downmarket, which is fine if the show is a lightweight bit of fluff. I am fully behind an arena show, but I just don't think you need another television series to do that."

There has always been a creative tension between the Sorbonne-educated Rice, who dreamt of becoming a rock star and Lloyd Webber, the teenage Oxford drop-out, who persuaded him that their talents could be combined to reinvent musical theatre.

Jesus Christ Superstar, which the pair wrote in 1969 as a "rock opera", paved the way for Joseph to become a West End success. Their 1976 musical Evita ran for four years on Broadway but despite having the Great White Way at their feet, it proved to be their last major collaboration.

Lloyd Webber went to work on Cats, which didn't require Rice's lyrics, since it was based on T S Eliot's poems. With his partner unavailable, Rice joined forces with Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus of Abba for his 1984 Cold War musical Chess, which failed to match Cats' record-breaking box office appeal.

While Lloyd Webber, 63, has revelled in a new career as a television talent show "judge", finding new West End stars for lead roles in The Sound of Music and Oliver!, Rice enjoys a quieter life, playing cricket, and working on new projects at his Cornwall home of 20 years.

 

Sir Elton John has replaced Lloyd Webber as his chief muse, creating award-winning songs together for the Disney animated films The Lion King and Aladdin. Yet Sir Tim remains protective of his successes with Lloyd Webber and senses the mockery that may follow Superstar. The BBC, which concluded its relationship with Lloyd Webber after a run of Saturday night series, is said to have turned down a Jesus Christ Superstar search, fearing that the concept may offend Christians.

The musical features Mary Magdalene expressing her desire for Jesus and ends with a crucifixion. Sir Tim said: "It opens up a lot of opportunities for spoofs and I think it would be ill-advised to have people voting for who should be Jesus." After writing to ITV expressing his reservations, Sir Tim is threatening to derail the whole proposition, a move which could cause an irreperable rift with his former partner. "They can't cast the show without my approval," he said. "I have the right to veto casting, so if Andrew casts it on TV and I didn't like the person, I could say so."

Yet both parties appear to recognise the tantalising possibilities of a reunion. They wrote a short piece together in 1986 for the Queen's 60th birthday celebrations.

In 2010 the duo completed their first serious work together in 34 years, two new songs for The Wizard Of Oz, another West End show which Lloyd Webber launched off the back of a ticket-sale boosting BBC1 series.

"That was never a major project for me," claimed Sir Tim.

"There has never been a feud," Lloyd Webber stressed recently. "We have been great friends for a very long time."

Sir Tim ascribes the duo's collaborative inaction to a lack of "subject matter that really grabs me" when ideas have been mooted. He could have co-written Phantom but "some ideas appeal to you, and some don't".

Lloyd Webber will shrug off Rice's Superstar snub by making a high-profile trip to New York to talk up a Broadway opening of his Phantom sequel, Love Never Dies.

Rice is working away on a musical adaptation of the 1953 film, From Here to Eternity. It could be that long before musical theatre's famous duo ever share a West End top billing again.

The God squad: saints and sinners

On the original 1970 Jesus Christ Superstar album, Ian Gillan, of Deep Purple, starred as Jesus, with pop star Murray Head as Judas and Manfred Mann's Mike d'Abo as King Herod. Paul Gadd, later Gary Glitter, had one line as the Priest.

 

Jesus Christ Superstar opened at the Palace Theatre in London in 1972, starring Paul Nicholas as Jesus and Dana Gillespie as Mary. It ran for eight years becoming the United Kingdom's longest-running musical at the time. Nicholas returned for a 20th anniversary production.

 

Texan rock singer Ted Neeley played Jesus on Broadway and in the 1973 feature film, directed by Norman Jewison. Neeley continued to play the role onstage in the US productions up to 2010.

 

In a 1996 radio production for BBC Radio 2, Jesus was played by Tony Hadley, of Spandau Ballet, Judas by The Who's Roger Daltrey.

 

Sebastian Bach, singer with US heavy-metal band Skid Row, took the lead role in a 2002 US tour but quit the following year after a row with the director.

 

Glenn Carter, Jesus in Bill Kenwright's 2004 UK revival is leader of the British branch of the international UFO cult, the Raelian Movement, which believes that humans were created by 4ft aliens.

Women have played Jesus. Peaches, the sexually explicit Canadian electronic musician, performed a one-woman Jesus Christ Superstar in Berlin in 2010. Amy Rays of the US female folk duo The Indigo Girls took the role in an Atlanta, Georgia production in 1994.

 

Agnetha Fältskog played Mary Magdalene in a 1972 Swedish production before finding fame with Abba.

 

Stars who have played King Herod include Rik Mayall and Jack Black.

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