NEW YORK — This spring, Tim Rice will have written the lyrics to three shows on Broadway.
After all, not too long ago, he had four musicals playing simultaneously.
"This is just three. Times are tough," says Rice, keeping a straight face.
At 67, Rice is enjoying something of a minirevival. His "Evita" and "Jesus Christ Superstar" are being revived at the same time on Broadway — joining his unstoppable "The Lion King" — and he's readying his first new work — a musical adaptation of the novel "From Here to Eternity" — in over a decade.
How is it writing lyrics again after all these years?
"I'd forgotten that I was good at it," he says with a broad smile.
Other people haven't forgotten: Rice has earned Grammy, Tony and Academy awards for penning the words to a string of hits alongside some of the world's greatest composers, including Andrew Lloyd Webber, Elton John and Alan Menken.
"So much of his personality comes through in his lyrics," says Menken, who worked with Rice on "Beauty and the Beast" and "King David." ''He's so funny and so social and so warm and generous. I really love Tim Rice very much."
Though he is modest and gracious, there is some vindication to having two of his earliest works return again to Broadway — "Evita" from London and "Jesus Christ Superstar" from the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Canada via the La Jolla Playhouse in California.
"Obviously, I'm very grateful that 'Superstar' and 'Evita,' in particular, have stood the test of time," he says. "In a funny way, neither of them were total successes the first time around."
After finding success with "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" in London more than four decades ago, he and Lloyd Webber then tackled the then-odd concept of a rock opera about Christ but couldn't find anyone willing to produce it. The duo persuaded friends to record the songs and the album took off, which then triggered a stage production. But it had some technical problems, competition from "Godspell" and only ran about 18 months on Broadway, closing in 1973.
"It was kind of ahead of its time," Rice says.
By the end of the decade, the duo was back with "Evita," the story of Eva Peron. Rice wrote the lyrics and book, having been inspired by a radio show about the Argentine leader he listened to while he was in his car. It was a bigger success on Broadway but opened to pretty awful reviews.
"So I'm quite glad to have a second crack," Rice says.
This will be Broadway's third revival of "Jesus Christ Superstar" and the first revival of "Evita," but productions of both — with the anthems "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" and "What's the Buzz" — are theater staples.
"Neither show has really ever gone away. They've both been done all around the world ever since, which is very flattering. They're both good shows. They both work," he says.
"Forty years on, I can almost stand back — certainly from 'Superstar' 40 years ago — and say, 'Well, actually, it's not bad.' We didn't know what we were doing at the time. You always do best when you don't quite know what you're doing and you don't know what the rules are."
Rice and Lloyd Webber eventually parted ways — the composer went on to write "The Phantom of the Opera" and "Cats" — and the two occasionally pop up in English newspapers sniping at each other, most recently over Webber's fondness for TV talent searches to find stars for revivals of his shows.
"We've always kept in touch. We had a few ups and downs. It's fine," says Rice. "But I'm sure if Andrew and I did something together again, it wouldn't be as good as 'Superstar' or 'Evita.' I think it would be probably done for the wrong reasons."
Rice, who has been busy in England as a bigwig in the cricket world, visits New York three or four times a year and catches many Broadway shows. While he didn't care too much for "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark," he loved "The Book of Mormon" and cheered Daniel Radcliffe in "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying." He bemoans the lack of a great new British musical.
"The trouble I find with British musicals these days is that most of the shows are written by old codgers — people like me," he says. "I just wonder sometimes where the next generation of musicals will come from. It'll probably come out of left field. It won't be something that will be predicted."
Left field is where Rice and Lloyd Webber came from and their strange paths to the stage — concept album before full production — has offered would-be writers inspiration. "It was unexpected and we were unaccepted by the establishment for quite a long time," he says. "Every time we got forced into a corner, it turned out to be rather a good corner."
Those fertile late-1960s and '70s, when he and Lloyd Webber were writing "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," ''Jesus Christ Superstar" and "Evita," remain one of his most productive times.
"There are two graphs in one's life. There's the graph of experience, which starts at zero and goes to 100. And there's the graph of enthusiasm and inspiration that starts at 100 and goes down to zero. When they cross, you're at your top — you've still got a bit of inspiration left and a bit of experience," Rice says.
"I think with 'Evita,' we had that. I'm not saying that therefore 'Evita' is a better piece than 'Superstar.' I wouldn't like to genuinely say one was better than the other."
Rice went on to co-write more hits — "The Lion King" and "Aida" with John — and a few misses — "Chess" with members of ABBA and the musical "Blondel" — had three children, owns his own cricket team and got a knighthood.
He has lately contributed songs to films or special events like Queen Elizabeth II's 60th birthday celebration, and he has done a few collaborations — he and Lloyd Webber wrote a new song for the movie "Evita" with Madonna — but a full-length musical wasn't "anything I felt I desperately had to do."
He was helping young composer Stuart Brayson on a musical adaptation of the James Jones' novel "From Here to Eternity" — most famous for its scene of Deborah Kerr and Burt Lancaster kissing on a beach — when he realized he'd have to take over all lyric writing duties. The musical now has 18 songs, a bright young director in Tamara Harvey and a book writer in Bill Oakes, an old friend of Rice.
"It's a combination of youth and experience. Or, if you'd like to put it another way, old age and inexperience," says Rice, who hopes it will be on a stage in London within a year. "I've written a few songs here and there but it's quite nice to get back to doing one properly."
Follow Mark Kennedy on Twitter at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits
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