Tim Rice has written lyrics for such Broadway successes as The Lion King, and the current Broadway hit Aida, with music by Elton, whose touring version arrives this week at the Fisher Theatre, reported the Detroit Free Press on September 9, 2002.
But by his own estimate Rice has written each of those movie or stage musicals twice.
“I suppose, for every show, you probably write another show that doesn’t get heard,” Rice said. “I think as you get going you learn to accept that as part of the process.”
This kind of equanimity has kept Briton Rice, 57, part of the collaborative process for more than three decades. In show business, talent will get you so far. Being easy to work with will get you a little farther.
Rice’s abilities are well-documented: They don’t hand out Tony and Oscar awards for mediocrity, but Rice has won three of each, not to mention five Grammys, for collaborations with composers Andrew Lloyd Webber, Alan Menken and Elton. He has written with many others, most notably former ABBA members Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson on the musical “Chess.”
“I’m incredibly easy to work with. I’m Mr. Nice Guy. Nobody ever objects to working with me,” Rice says, laughing modestly. His attitude toward his work does reflect a certain absence of ego. For one thing, he is flexible. He’s willing to write lyrics before the composer writes the tunes; he’s willing to put lyrics to melodies.
“It depends. The only composer I work with who insists on the words coming first is Elton John. All the others have tended to prefer to do the music first, although there’s always the odd line where a lyric might come first. There are “pluses and minuses both ways,” Rice says.
“It gives you more freedom if you’re writing the lyrics without a tune. But on the other hand, if you’re not careful, you can be inconcise — if there is such a word — and rambly, rather than direct.”
Besides, as Rice sees it, both music and words are subordinate. “Nothing else matters as much as the story line. You’ve got to get that right first.”
The plot of Aida is “one of the factors that makes it work,” Rice says. One element this Aida has that the original opera does not: a framing story, set in a contemporary museum, that begins and concludes the ancient tale. The story of Rice and Elton’s participation in Aida is more straightforward.
“Elton and I were asked by a Disney team whether we’d like to do another film along the lines of The Lion King. We slightly dithered because we thought we’d never top The Lion King. We wondered if we wanted to do another animated feature at that point. While we were dithering they said, well, what if you did it as a show, as a stage production? To my surprise and delight, Elton expressed great enthusiasm for that, even though it meant writing 20 songs rather than six.”
Of Rice’s three musicals currently on Broadway, Beauty had notched 3,418 performances, The Lion King 2,008 and Aida 1,017 as of Sept. 1, 2002.