Sir Tim Rice on Why Everyone Still Loves a Good Musical
His musings come after taking a night off from rehearsals of the impending West End production of FROM HERE TO ETERNITY to take in a touring production of his famed work EVITA, also touring across North America.
"As I watched this excellent revival of what was my last collaboration with Andrew Lloyd Webber, I was brutally reminded how some things have changed since it first opened in the West End in 1978, a far-off golden age when there were no jukebox musicals, no shows that ran forever and no internet - not that I have anything against the first two," he writes.
In his column, Rice takes on the ever-popular jukebox musical, tracing its first success back to 1989 with BUDDY - THE Buddy Holly STORY (also touring North America), all the way to today, with the likes of JERSEY BOYS and MAMMA MIA - and what that means for the West End, as well as musicals in general.
"One great difference between now and then is the proliferation of the so-called jukebox musical, which uses previously released popular songs or a particular band's back catalogue as its score. In 1978, the genre didn't exist - but, boy, it's popular now. It really took off with Buddy in 1989, the story of Buddy Holly which climaxed with a wonderful interpretation of his last show at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, with sound, lights and backup musicians that were way more sophisticated than those Holly actually performed with in 1959. Though it ran for 12 years in the West End, Buddy The Musical did nothing much on Broadway, which has always been more resistant to the jukebox conception."
But Rice also notes that since his original time working on EVITA in the 1970s, audiences, as well as producers and composers, have changed. It's a new market.
"...I get the impression that the majority of today's contemporary chart music followers automatically and mindlessly dismiss anything that smacks of 'a musical,'" he writes. "Audiences in 1978 were far more varied in their age range - and less conservative - than today."
But even with the prevelance of the internet, when before opening night "tweeters and bloggers are already airing their views to the world," he says, what's important in enjoying a production remains the same.
"But the most important things haven't changed. Theatre-goers still love musicals," he writes. "Those who create them still do so more in hope than with confidence. I'm not sure I have a clue what works in musical theatre these days, but neither does anyone else. At least I know I don't know anything, which must give me some advantage over my fellow bewildered. Is From Here To Eternity a good idea for a musical? Is Stephen Ward? Well, almost anything can be if well executed - except possibly Rasputin, which has been attempted several times, never successfully."
Photo by Walter McBride