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Friday, 27 October, 2000, 09:29 GMT 10:29 UK
Sir Tim Rice: Musical man
Rik Mayall in Jesus Christ Superstar
Rik Mayall plays King Herod in the new production
As a new production of Jesus Christ Superstar appears on video, lyricist Sir Tim Rice speaks to BBC News Online's Jatinder Sidhu about his career and his famous collaboration with Lord Andrew Lloyd-Webber.

Sir Tim Rice is still best known as the man who put the words to Lord Lloyd-Webber's music.

They met in 1965, when Sir Tim had given up plans to be a lawyer and was working at EMI records, and discovered a common interest in musicals.

They developed a working relationship which was responsible for three hit shows - Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita.

Sir Tim Rice
Sir Tim Rice on Lord Lloyd Webber: 'Our differences made us work so well'
Their work revitalised a stale theatrical form and made way for the present domination of the West End by expensive, but profitable musicals.

"Each in their own way they were ground breaking. We made a big impact with those shows. Whether you like them or loathe them they changed a lot of the rules," he says.

"And no-one's ever done that since. However big musicals have been - Les Miserables, Miss Saigon - they are basically following on the same formula."

Dream team

The new video, a filmed stage production of the musical made by the duo's Really Useful Group, stars Glenn Carter as Jesus and features a guest appearance by Rik Mayall as King Herod.

The original album of the musical, released in 1970, sold over ten million copies worldwide, and catapulted the duo to instant stardom.

Sir Tim realised many years later that it was their differences which made them work so well together, he says now.

"What helps is if the two writers are very different. We were very different characters. We may have superficially seemed the same - middle class, public school.

"But my more cynical approach and Andrew's more romantic approach was a perfect mix which worked very well three times.

Jesus Christ Superstar
The new production of Jesus Christ Superstar comes 30 years after it was written
"You don't have to be great friends or in love with each other. It's almost like a marriage. It can work despite lots of clashes," he says.

The writing process has not changed much over the years, he says.

"You have to have a close working tie between the words and the music. Unlike in pop music where you have a go at both, in theatre you tend to get more specialists."

The partnership broke up in the early 1980s and Sir Tim went on to work with other composers including, on the musical Chess, Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus from Abba.

"I've enjoyed working with each of my collaborators very much," he says.

In the past few years he has worked with Sir Elton John on Disney projects including Aladdin, The Lion King and Aida.

"Elton John was the least interfering composer I've ever worked with by a long way. He doesn't have too many views on what the lyrics should be.

"The longer you're in the business the more people tell you how to do your job."

Snobbery

And how difficult is it to write a musical? The perennial snobbery surrounding musicals might suggest they are easier to write than "proper" plays.

"Musicals are not easier to write. You have to have a terrifically strong story for a musical.

"There have been examples of great songs stuck together and it hasn't worked because there hasn't been a decent story," he says.

"I don't think there are very many good musicals on in the West End at the moment. Most musicals don't work and that's always true.

"The critics and the press love a big flop. There hasn't been a fantastic new show this year."

And Sir Tim should know. He has a string of awards under his belt to prove it - three Oscars, 11 Ivor Novello song-writing awards, two Tonys, five Grammys, and three Golden Globes.

After four years working with Sir Elton on Aida he says he is loath to launch into a major new project.

"I'm thinking of seeing what I can do to old shows rather than doing anything new. I'm hoping to see Chess re-launched in a big way.

"It's one of my favourite pieces of all time. I never thought we got it 100% right," he says.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Sir Tim Rice speaking to BBC News Online
"You have to have a close working tie between words and music"
Sir Tim Rice
"I don't think there are very many good musicals on in the West End at the moment"
Sir Tim Rice
On using music to advance politics
Sir Tim Rice
On his plans for the future
See also:

24 Mar 00 | Entertainment
Sir Elton's Aida hits Broadway
08 Nov 99 | Entertainment
Joseph hits the small screen
20 Oct 99 | Entertainment
Disney's roaring success
01 Sep 99 | Entertainment
Jesus Christ Superstar back on Broadway
09 Dec 98 | Entertainment
Rice and Lloyd-Webber slam Top 40
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