Can Andrew Lloyd Webber beat new Tim Rice musical?

Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice were once one of the most successful composing teams in musical theatre, creating such West End hits as Evita, Jesus Christ Superstar and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Their working partnership may have come to an end, but both are still big names in the theatre industry and are actually opening new shows separately in the West End at the end of the year. When they are so well known for their collaborative efforts, it is inevitable that their respective shows will be held up in comparison against one another – so who will come out on top?

So far, it seems as though it is Sir Tim who has the edge on his former partner. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s new musical, Stephen Ward, centres on its namesakes involvement in the Profumo Affair, the 1963 political scandal involving then-Secretary of State for War John Profumo and mistress Christine Keeler. It opens at the Aldwych Theatre in December 2013. The use of the Profumo Affair as inspiration for a musical theatre production has already been widely discussed in theatrical circles, with some questioning the entertainment value to be found in the matter. The recent release of the musical’s trailer was also met with a luke-warm response by theatre fans. With Lloyd Webber’s last original musical, Love Never Dies, being less than a stellar-success, the general mind-set already seems to be that this is not the show to restore his reputation.

In comparison, the decade-long absence from the West End seems to have been a good move for lyricist Tim Rice. He was offered many projects in that time, but it seems Rice held out for one he was truly inspired to work on, and the result is a musical adaption of the popular novel and subsequent film, From Here To Eternity. The story is set in Hawaii in 1941, centred on three soldiers stationed on the island of Oahu in the months leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbour. Written in 1951 by novelist James Jones, his debut novel was loosely based on his experiences serving in the pre-World War II Hawaiian Division’s 27th Infantry and brought him much critical acclaim. He won the 3rd annual National Book Award in 1952 and the book was also named on the Modern Library Board’s list of 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century (no.62). It was adapted for two television series in 1979 and 1980, but it was the 1953 film of the same name which further cemented Jones’ success. Directed by Fred Zinneman, it starred Burt Lancaster, Frank Sinatra and Montgomery Clift, with Deborah Kerr and Donna Reed as the love interests in the story and also featuring memorable performances by supporting actors George Reeve and Ernest Borgnine. The film won in eight of its 13 nominated categories at the 1953 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and was also named in a number of other film awards, such as the Golden Globes and the New York Film Critics’ Circle Awards, becoming not only one of the biggest hits of the year but also one of the ten highest-grossing films of the decade.

Having previously enjoyed such momentous success, the stage adaption of this classic story already has much buzz surrounding it. Billed as ‘a tale of illicit love and army life’, the musical of From Here To Eternity is collaboration between Tim Rice and new musical theatre composer Stuart Brayson, whom the renowned lyricist has compared to a younger Andrew Lloyd Webber in terms of composing talent. Bill Oakes has written the book for the production, which is to be directed by Tamara Harvey and features choreography by Javier De Frutos and designs by Soutra Gilmoure. Casting news for the new show was recently announced, with Darius Campbell (formerly Danesh) set to join the principal cast as First Sergeant Milton Warden, the role played by Burt Lancaster on the big screen.  Campbell originally found fame on the TV reality talent show Pop Idol but has since performed in many West End musicals, including Chicago and Gone with the Wind. Also appearing alongside him are Robert Lonsdale as Private Robert Prewitt and Ryan Sampson as Private Angelo Maggio, with the female leads played by Rebecca Thornhill as Karen Holmes and Siubhan Harrison as Alma ‘Lorene’ Burke. Also confirmed in the musical’s cast are Keisha Amponsa Banson, Marc Antolin, Julie Armstrong, James Ballanger, John Brannoch, Abigail Climer, Brian Doherty, Jessica Ellen, Dale Evans, Shimi Goodman, Kirby Hughes, Lauren Ingram, Dean John-Wilson, Joshua Lacey, Carolyn Maitland, Nuno Queimado, Lucinda Shaw, Warren Sollars, David Stoller, Rebecca Sutherland, Laura Tyrer, Adam Vaughan, Lauren Varnham, Stephen Webb and Matthew Wesley.

The musical opens at the Shaftesbury Theatre in October 2013 (previews from September) and Rice warned of the adult themes its steamy lyrics, saying in a recent interview: “It ain’t going to be a show for kids. It’s not like The Lion King or Joseph, for sure,” (14th April 2013, The Telegraph). Audiences at this year’s live music event West End Live were treated to a sneak preview when Tim Rice took to the stage to introduce dashing cast member Lonsdale, who gave a great performance of one of the musical numbers from the show.

The success of the book and film doesn’t guarantee that the stage musical is going to produce the same result of course, but it is a pretty good foundation to build a West End show on, and if early indications are anything to go by, then Rice may just have another hit musical to add to his collection. It isn’t a competition between Rice and Lloyd Webber of course, although many will be treating it as just that. At the end of the day, I think it’s wonderful to see new work from old names and I hope both shows will be welcome and productive additions to London’s West End theatre scene.

By Julie Robinson (@missjulie25)

Thursday 4th July 2013

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