Tim Rice reflects on his career

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If you've ever found yourself singing "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina," "A Whole New World," "Can You Feel the Love Tonight?" -- or countless other show and pop tunes -- you've sung the words of Tim Rice. An Oscar-, Tony-, Grammy- and Golden Globe-winning lyricist and author, Rice recently spoke with Shannon L. Bowen for The Hollywood Reporter as he prepared to receive his latest honor, a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame for his contributions to live theater/live performance.

The Hollywood Reporter: Which project have you been the most emotionally invested in?

Tim Rice: Maybe "Chess" more than some, though it hasn't yet had a particularly successful or satisfactory production in the states yet. The score is pretty well-known, and we recently did a show in London that was very successful. It is, in essence, from personal experience. It's about fairly ordinary people. Most of the things I've been lucky enough to do, there's something I particularly like about them. If I find myself working on a piece that I don't like, I tend to abandon it or lose interest, and it never happens.

THR: What's the status of your most recent film, "Nutcracker: The Untold Story"?

Rice: It's coming out sometime next year. It's quite fun to work with Tchaikovsky, because he never rings up and complains and says, "Where are the lyrics?"

THR: Is it true that "Evita" was inspired by something you heard on the radio?

Rice: Well, it was 1973. We (Rice and then-collaborator Andrew Lloyd Webber) had had some success with "Jesus Christ Superstar," and we hadn't decided what was the ideal way to follow that up. I was driving around, and I was late, trying to find an address in London -- way before (satellite navigation). In fact, if satnav had been invented in 1973, "Evita" would never have been written because I would have found my destination quicker and I would have missed the beginning of this radio program, which was about Eva Peron. I was very intrigued by it ... and the more research I did on this woman, the more I thought she was a very good dramatic subject for a musical. And I guess I was right.

THR: How do you feel about the general direction of musical theater today?

Rice: I don't see an awful lot of great new young musical writers on the horizon. Most of the hit shows tend to be brilliantly put together around existing songs or old scores, and certainly in England there isn't anybody young and good coming up with revolutionary or interesting new ideas. Producers, directors and artists are falling back a bit on tried and tested things, either revivals or jukebox musicals, and there isn't a lot around that's absolutely brand-new, or if there is, it's not getting heard.

THR: Why is there a dearth of new ideas?

Rice: It's very hard to say. It might be that it's very expensive, and producers aren't prepared to take a (chance) on somebody who's unknown. ... Or people maybe start off by trying to be too sophisticated. They want to be Stephen Sondheim the first time out, so they choose quite complex subjects. Musicals need an element of uncertainty about them, which means great sweeping tunes and straightforward story lines. You can have lots of subtleties within them, but the basic thing has to be much less pretentious than a lot of people think.
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