Sir Tim Rice and Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber's latest shows flop in West End

After decades of breaking box-office records with the likes of 'Evita' and 'The Phantom of the Opera', audiences shun musical maestros' latest offerings

For 45 years, the musicals of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Sir Tim Rice have defined the genre and broken box-office records. But now, the theatre pioneers are united in failure, after the ambitious shows  they launched apart have both been forced to close, mere months after opening, due to audience indifference.

Lord Lloyd Webber’s much-hyped musical about the Profumo affair, Stephen Ward, is to close at the Aldwych Theatre after a run of four months. Producers have scrapped plans for a modest extension to the West End run and it will now end on 29 March. Fittingly, it is the same day that From Here to Eternity, Sir Tim’s latest production, comes to a premature close.

The lyricist’s Shaftesbury Theatre adaptation of James Jones’s wartime novel was due to run until the end of April but the house will go dark a month earlier, bringing the musical to a close after six months. Half-full houses did for the shows, which in Lord Lloyd Webber’s case is likely to mean a loss on the £2.5m required to stage Stephen Ward.

The flops will not join Evita, Cats, The Phantom of the Opera and The Lion King among the pantheon of hits which Lord Lloyd Webber and Sir Tim either created together or separately, following the dissolution of their writing partnership 30 years ago.

 

Their failure may indicate that the musical-theatre baton has now passed from Lord Lloyd Webber, 65, and Sir Tim, 69, although Lord Lloyd Webber has announced he had begun work on new songs for his next theatre project, an adaptation of the hit film School of Rock. Tim Minchin, the composer of Matilda, which continues to play to packed houses on the West End and Broadway, has become the theatre world’s most sought-after songsmith. Where once Lord Lloyd Webber and Sir Tim broke boundaries with Jesus Christ Superstar, the Tony-winning The Book of Mormon has added a contemporary, acerbic, satirical edge to the religious musical.

The most successful music and lyric-writing partnership in musical theatre, Lord Lloyd Webber and Sir Tim first joined forces in 1965 and revitalised the form with the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar. Parting ways after the huge success of Evita, which ran for four years on Broadway, their relationship has been strained during the intervening years.

When Stephen Ward and Eternity opened within weeks of each other, it was perceived as a private box-office battle between the two ex-colleagues. Yet the challenge of launching two new, historically themed shows into a West End dominated by jukebox musicals and well-trodden revivals actually brought the duo together.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ‘Stephen Ward’ is to close after four months Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ‘Stephen Ward’ is to close after four months
Lord Lloyd Webber attended a preview of Eternity and gave Sir Tim some tips on improving the “sex on the beach” scene, made famous by the novel’s film adaptation. But his advice could not prevent the musical, starring Darius Campbell and Rebecca Thornhill, opening to poor reviews. Bemoaning its “thin” story and lack of star-power, Variety asked: “When was the last time anyone booked a ticket on the basis of a lyricist?”

The failure of Stephen Ward will be a particular blow to Lord Lloyd Webber, who believed it was his best work in years. “I haven’t had a hit in 20 years,” he admitted. “I’ve written six musicals in that time.” The composer insisted that the story of the Establishment’s destruction of the society osteopath at the heart of the Profumo affair would resonate with audiences 50 years on, a faith that may have been misplaced. While reviews were generally positive, Variety said the “flaccid” production was guilty of “slack storytelling”.

It will be a source of embarrassment to both men that their shows failed to match even the longevity of Viva Forever!, the Spice Girls musical, which limped on for seven months. Lord Lloyd Webber’s previous “flops” boasted more staying power – Love Never Dies ran for 18 months at the Adelphi and his collaboration with Ben Elton, The Beautiful Game, completed 11 months.

The two imminent closures, which explored themes of establishment hypocrisy and repressed sexuality, will give way to a brash, topical West End offering, with more obvious commercial potential. I Can’t Sing! The X Factor Musical, written by Harry Hill and fully endorsed by Simon Cowell, begins previews on Saturday, following the postponement of the opening two nights to resolve “technical issues”.

Lord Lloyd Webber’s back catalogue remains hugely popular and a revival of his 1980 song cycle Tell Me on a Sunday has just returned to the West End. But he admits that he may never again attempt to mount a major new project. “The costs of doing musicals have risen absolutely hugely,” he said before the Stephen Ward launch. “I don’t think I’ve got enough money to do very many more.”

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary charm: Clive Owen and Keira Knightley in 2004’s ‘King Arthur’
FilmGuy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle the legend
Arts and Entertainment
Corporate affair: The sitcom has become a satire of corporate culture in general

TV review

Broadcasting House was preparing for a visit from Prince Charles spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: There are some impressive performances by Claire Skinner and Lorraine Ashbourne in Inside No. 9, Nana's Party spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Glastonbury's pyramid stage

Glastonbury Michael Eavis reveals final headline act 'most likely' British pair

Arts and Entertainment
Ewan McGregor looks set to play Lumiere in the Beauty and the Beast live action remake

Film Ewan McGregor joins star-studded Beauty and the Beast cast as Lumiere

Arts and Entertainment
Charlie feels the lack of food on The Island with Bear Grylls

TV

The Island with Bear Grylls under fire after male contestants kill and eat rare crocodile
Arts and Entertainment
Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Quicksilver and Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch, in a scene from Avengers: Age Of Ultron
filmReview: A great cast with truly spectacular special effects - but is Ultron a worthy adversaries for our superheroes? spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Ince performing in 2006
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Beth (played by Jo Joyner) in BBC1's Ordinary Lies
tvReview: There’s bound to be a second series, but it needs to be braver spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, the presenters of The Great Comic Relief Bake Off 2015

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A still from Harold Ramis' original Groundhog Day film, released in 1993

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence