Back in the wild and wooly 1960’s, when musical boundaries were exploding outward in every possible direction, lyricist Tim Rice and another burgeoning songsmith named Andrew Lloyd Webber collaborated on a pop musical based on the Biblical tale of Joseph. When the soundtrack to Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, originally staged at a London private school, was picked up by Decca Records, their ticket was punched.
Faster than you could say “Godspell,” Webber and Rice were in the studio with Deep Purple vocalist Ian Gillan, Yvonne Elliman, Murray Head, and a far more ambitious aim: a rock opera (and that’s Rock, with a capital Guitar) about the last week in the life of Christ. At first existing just as a double record album, Jesus Christ Superstar topped the charts in the states, and later became the longest-running musical on the London stage, as well as a Broadway smash and then a hit movie.
Striding confidently forward, the successful team’s next project was to further define what they had helped invent. The result was Evita, a rock opera based on the life of revered Argentinean first lady Eva Peron. The recording was another hit (spawning the now-standard single Don’t Cry For Me Argentina), the stage production snagged seven Tony awards, and the motion picture project attracted both director Alan Parker and one-name star Madonna, as well as providing an English-language debut for Antonio Banderas.
After Evita, Rice and Webber went separate ways. While Webber went on to regale Broadway with rollerskating trains, dancing cats, and a certain masked madman, Rice teamed briefly with composer Stephen Oliver, then enlisted Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus of ABBA in the creation of Chess, a musical about the tensions and intentions of the Cold War. The album spun off hit singles on both sides of the Atlantic, the stage production ran for three years in London, and despite a disappointing showing on Broadway (it closed after 68 performances), the U.S. touring production garnered good reviews and many avid fans.
After a briefly reuniting with Webber to write a short comic piece in honor of the Queen’s 60th birthday, Rice resurfaced in 1992, when he took over writing lyrics for the Disney animated musical Aladdin after the death of Howard Ashman. This association proved golden, and not just for the Oscar he and composer Alan Menken won for the show-stopping, chart-topping A Whole New World. His next project for Disney teamed him with Elton John, and their songs for The Lion King helped make it the most successful animated film ever, and snagged Rice another Oscar for Can You Feel The Love Tonight?
Rice scarcely seemed to pause for breath through the 90’s. He teamed with composer John Farrar for Heathcliff, a stage musical based on Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. He re-teamed with Menken to write additional songs for the Broadway production of Beauty and the Beast, and for a musical, King David, which was released as a recording but never officially opened on stage. After The Lion King also hit Broadway, Rice and John renewed their partnership with another animated film (for Dreamworks this time), The Road to El Dorado.