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This programme contains some strong language
London's West End.
One square mile of musical talent
worth over a quarter of a billion pounds a year.
One of the cultural epicentres of Great Britain and the world.
But it wasn't always this way.
65 years ago, the West End was parochial,
trapped in a time warp of pre-war nostalgia,
completely unprepared for a new breed of musical emerging from America.
This is the story of the rise of the British musical,
how the British fought back against American domination,
to not only reclaim the West End,
but to become a driving force behind musical theatre around the world,
turning it into a global industry worth over £1.5 billion a year.
It's a tale of titanic shows.
Half of it wasn't written,
and the bits that had been written were far too long.
Nobody in our team had done it before, except for me.
This was a sort of a musical phenomena.
A story of prodigious talent.
All the talent that was being invented were all in Britain.
We just thought, "This is working quite well."
And that was the day my life changed for ever.
And phenomenal daring.
After the reviews, our box office was shredded.
They gotta see some ass!
They took him off screen and we never saw him again.
That's how difficult that show is.
MUSIC: "We'll Gather Lilacs" from Perchance To Dream
# We'll gather lilacs in the spring again... #
At the end of World War II, the West End musical,
cut off from outside influences for six long years, was looking tired.
The musicals of one-time giants Ivor Novello and Noel Coward,
with their polite tales of romance,
were feeling as out of date as their Victorian settings.
And in 1947, London found itself under a new bombardment -
a wave of American musicals quite different from anything
any British audience had ever seen before.
I remember when Oklahoma! came over. It had a terrific effect on us.
# O-O-O-O-O-Oklahoma where the wind comes sweepin' down the plain... #
I was just knocked out. Absolutely knocked out. Breathless.
# When the wind comes right behind the rain... #
It was just wallop, on, you know? # Oklahoma... # And, wow!
And the energy of it sort of took your breath away.
It was the first time after the sort of dreary years
of what was going on in the war,
where a vibrant new musical had opened in London,
and it was a burst of sunshine.
# And when we say...
# Yow! I-yip-I-yo-I-yay!
# We're only sayin' You're doin' fine, Oklahoma
# Oklahoma OK. #
In its choreography, lighting, even its cowboy setting,
Oklahoma! was light years away from what the British were doing.
But its most revolutionary aspect was the way it seamlessly
stitched dance, song and dialogue into a dramatic whole.
The dances and the songs were all part of the show,
which was unusual.
In the old days the songs just came in for no reason at all.
But it was all a whole, you know, integrated.
# There's no business like show business
# Like no business I know... #
The Americans had arrived.
Powerhouses like Rodgers and Hammerstein, Irving Berlin
and Lerner and Loewe.
The Americans had so many great writers in full swing.
They just came one after the other, you know. It was marvellous.
# There's no people like show people... #
The Americans were in the ascendance.
Unable to rival them, British composers came up with breezier,
small-scale musicals like Salad Days and The Boy Friend - curiosities,
quite different from the loud, flashy shows coming from Broadway.
I never felt that I could really write that sort of show.
And in fact, writing The Boy Friend was in direct contrast.
It was very old-fashioned, it was an old-fashioned 1920s musical.
# We've got to have We've got to have
# For it's so dreary not to have
# That certain thing called the boy friend... #
The Boy Friend's story of love on the French Riviera
was inspired by the dance crazes of the Roaring Twenties.
With Britain in the grip of a revival
of those happier pre-war years, The Boy Friend
became a rare British musical success.
I think it was the timing was right.
We'd had so many American musicals,
and suddenly The Boy Friend... It was so simple,
it was not sophisticated at all,
and the music was pretty, the lyrics were lovely.
# I could be happy with you
# If you could be happy with me.... #
It was thrilling, really.
Because somehow in my childhood I'd always imagined
that I would write a musical comedy that would be a hit on the West End,
and it actually happened with the first show I'd wrote.
The Boy Friend's use of 1920s American dance music made it
an appealing prospect to Broadway producers.
In 1954, it became the first post-war musical
to go against the tide
and transfer to New York.
I drank Manhattans, I ate hamburgers,
I went to Macy's and Bloomingdale's.
That was the culture for me.
It was like an Aladdin's Cave, to tell the truth,
coming from...not war-torn Britain, but we were a bit deprived here.
The American producers on Broadway were Cy Feuer and Ernie Martin -
showmen whose latest blockbuster, Guys and Dolls,
was an altogether more showbizzy affair
than the intimate period piece that was The Boy Friend.
They were very charming to begin with.
But not for long.
They were brutes.
They were determined to make it a hit, come what may.
They suddenly turned on us and said, "Get out."
In fact, I was literally picked up and flung out onto the sidewalk. Yup.
And we weren't allowed in at all until the first night,
and by that time they had done a lot of damage.
They'd turned it into a burlesque.
Only by hamming up The Boy Friend for cheap laughs
did the American producers believe it could be a Broadway hit.
If the British were ever to find success in America on their own terms,
a radical rethink of musical theatre would have to happen.
By the late 1950s,
the seeds of that revolution were beginning to be sown,
not in West End's Theatreland,
but in the socially deprived East End
and the politically radical Stratford East theatre workshop.
At present, the company are working on a new musical
about the Soho underworld, under their director, Joan Littlewood.
Joan Littlewood was probably
the most important theatre director in Britain
in the second half of the 20th century.
She sort of reinvented theatre.
She got fed up of this notion that theatre was posh people.
She allowed you to be yourself.
I mean, I was a working-class, lower-class girl,
and I was forced to be middle class by the theatre of the day,
because that's what you did.
You spoke nice, and you looked pretty, and you weren't tall,
so I always wore flat shoes, and, you know, you conformed.
And Joan suddenly threw all that aside.
Coming here, expecting to have a card game.
They look around, and what do they see?
You, and your bleedin' birds, and 'im, lying about all over the place.
So they went off to that bleedin' Frenchy's down the road.
She actually directed shows in a way they'd never been directed before.
She improvised scenes with the actors. Scripts were built up
through the process of improvisation with actors.
Everybody threw in their two-penn'orth.
And she always had music in her plays,
because it seemed right and proper that people would burst into song.
So I don't think she distinguished between "a musical" and "a play."
She was a total original, Joan.
While Littlewood was transforming theatre,
a revolution was happening in the world of popular music.
Rock and roll was the sound of a new generation,
and a young East End Jewish songwriter named Lionel Bart
was making a name for himself
penning hits for the likes of Cliff Richard and Tommy Steele.
I met him about two o'clock in the morning,
at a party that I'd been invited to
in a bombed ruin next door to Waterloo station.
And there was this fella wearing a big pitcher hat,
a big feather boa, and one of those oil lamps,
swinging it round his head, singing There Ain't Nothing Like A Dame.
And it was Lionel.
In 1959, Joan Littlewood asked Bart to add music and lyrics
to Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be,
a comedy about the Soho criminal underworld.
The meeting of two mavericks
would have lasting consequences for the British musical.
Lionel loved working on his feet, and he loved working with other people.
Joan would say, "We need another song here." "What about?"
"About, er, this guy comes on." "OK!" And he'd go away.
He loved that show-off thing of being able to go "There you are, there's the song." And it was brilliant.
Fings' story of bent coppers, spivs and prostitutes
became a surprise hit.
Publicity was helped with a spin-off single by Max Bygraves.
-Oi! Do me a favour!
# They changed our local pally into a bowling alley
# And fings ain't what they used t'be... #
Now, if you listen to that, you get no indication at all
of what the show was about, because the words were completely rewritten.
The original words for Fings are entirely different
from the Max Bygraves version,
and the BBC could not in a million years play it.
# It's toffs with toffee noses and poofs in coffee houses
# And fings ain't wot they used t'be
# There's short-time low-price mysteries
# Without proper histories
# Fings ain't wot they used t'be
# There used to be class doing the town
# Buying a bit of vice
# And that's when a brass couldn't go down
# Under the union price Not likely
# Once in golden days of yore Ponces killed a lazy whore
# Fings ain't wot they used t'be. #
Want a second chorus?
With its subject matter and language,
Fings was a direct challenge
to the office of the Lord Chamberlain,
which for over 200 years
had been the country's official theatre censor.
The interior decorating,
Wallas Eaton carrying a ladder.
The censorship man said that we mustn't carry the ladder
in a sort of semi-vertical position, because that's suggestive.
The night he came in, it was carried at an "erotic" angle,
and he wasn't standing for that.
He wanted a lot of the words taken out.
Nobody took any notice of him - the show was semi-improvised,
so they'd just make up new stuff.
With Fings, the British musical seemed to be finding its feet.
But the Americans had already unleashed
yet another game-changing blockbuster.
# La-la la-la-la America
# La-la la-la-la America
# America. #
Overriding the whole of musical theatre
from the late '50s to the early '60s was West Side Story,
which was just such an overpowering achievement.
Everybody just watched it with open mouths, and said, "How the hell d'you do that?"
West Side Story's update of Romeo and Juliet
using rival ethnic street gangs
left audiences shocked.
Never before had a musical attempted such adult themes,
and tied it together with a bristling soundtrack
and electrifying choreography.
No-one knew what to do.
The musical had come to a stop, killed by genius.
Bernstein's genius stopped them
knowing where they were going to go next.
So along comes Lionel Bart,
an ordinary Cockney boy from the East End with salt beef and a pickle,
and he goes back to his Cockney roots.
What Lionel did, instead of trying to leap over the bar,
he limboed under it
and came in with this Dickens story that had British tunes in it.
He didn't try and do that American jazzy stuff
to equal West Side Story. He did these knees-up, ah...
You cannot listen to Oliver without doing that. # Consider yourself... #
# Da da da da da ba-ba-ba-bum Ba-ra-ba-da-ba-di-bum. #
# Consider yourself at home
# Consider yourself one of the family... #
Like Bernstein, Bart had written a musical about street gangs,
but this was a very British story
set in the seedy underbelly of Dickens' London.
Much of the success of the show would depend on how well Fagin,
the evil gang leader of the novel, could be turned into
a more sympathetic figure for the West End stage.
Auditioning for the part was actor Ron Moody.
For the first audition, they said, "What about singing?"
So I said, "Erm, well, I can do..."
OPERATIC VOICE: # Nessun Dorma! Nessun Dorma. #
HE CONTINUES TO SING IN ITALIAN
He got the part, and he invented the part.
There's no getting away from that,
that for everybody that's ever played Fagin since,
there is always that reference point that you are referring to Ron Moody.
# When I see someone rich Both my thumbs start to itch
# Only to find some peace of mind I have to pick a pocket or two
# You've got to pick a pocket or two
# Ah-ah-ah-ah... #
# You've got to pick a pocket or two
# Just to find some peace of mind
# We have to pick a pocket
# Or two-o! #
Even with the brilliance of Moody as Fagin,
at its stage premiere in June 1960,
Bart wasn't convinced that Oliver! could be a success.
Lionel Bart was so convinced that it was a flop
that he went down the road to Barbara Windsor's dressing room,
where he spent most of the show, because Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be was on there,
and came back and heard this braying noise and thought he was being booed!
Donald Albery, who was the producer, was "Where the hell have you been?
"Come with me!" And they basically pushed him on stage.
By this time they'd taken 23 curtain calls.
Not just curtain calls, but reprises of Consider Yourself.
They'd sung that song 23 times.
The cast were hoarse. The audience wasn't going to go home.
And whoof, that was it.
He was the master. Suddenly.
He wasn't just Lionel Bart any more, he was a big thing.
# Oliver, Oliver
# Never before has a boy wanted more... #
What made Bart's success all the more extraordinary
was that he couldn't actually read or write music.
He was full of ideas, but he didn't hand you a piece of paper
saying, "There you are, there's the plan."
The tunes came to him.
"Yeah, that's a little tune." Somebody would write it down.
It's this E flat, you see.
# I'll see you again... #
I think it must be very difficult to write both words AND music.
You haven't got somebody telling you where you're going wrong.
So Lionel Bart was a significant talent, he really was.
Either your piano is out of tune, or you've got cloth ears, mate.
You see, that's why his talent went through him like that,
because he didn't think, "Well, what did I have to do with it?
"All I did was invent the tunes." But they were marvellous!
# Food glorious food What is there more handsome? #
Three years after its London premiere, Oliver! launched on Broadway
to critical and commercial acclaim.
Britain finally had a genuine international hit,
free from American meddling.
It was the start of a boom time for Brits on Broadway,
and Bart was at its head.
Just over the road from where Oliver! happened,
Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Alan Bennett and Jonathan Miller
were appearing in Beyond The Fringe.
Just down the road, a few blocks away,
Tony Newley was in Stop The World - I Want To Get Off.
These shows were hits. More significant still,
when Oliver! opened, number one in the American Hit Parade
was Telstar by The Tornados.
MUSIC: "Telstar" by The Tornados
-A British invasion, which has being going on since last autumn.
The invasion of Broadway.
So this notion that the Beatles brought Britain to America -
bollocks. Lionel did it.
Lionel and Tony Newley, and Joe Meek and The Tornados.
They made that British revolution happen.
And so, er, Oliver's Britishness was what the Americans loved.
# If I ruled the world... #
Musicals were no longer seen as dreary and old-fashioned -
they were suddenly the bright new thing,
and everybody wanted to be part of it, including Lionel Bart's
former band-mate and Britain's most famous pop star, Tommy Steele.
I was an English Elvis Presley.
# I never felt more like singin' the blues... #
But the problem with me was - and it's not a problem -
was that I wanted to be in musicals.
When I first met him, I was like...
Of course, I'm only a teenager, so for me, he was like a huge star.
# Cos oh, you got me singin' the blues... #
By 1963, the British musical was on such a wave of popularity
that a show was written as a star vehicle for Steele.
But even for such a seasoned performer,
the transition from pop performer to stage performer
was a daunting experience.
I do remember the first night when I walked on stage,
because I had to walk on stage facing Tommy,
and I saw out of the corner of my eye all these heads go "woomf", like this.
All of them turned toward me, and I thought, "Oh, my God!"
You're in the dark, and the show's going on,
and your cue's coming up, and the music is just
coming into the last 24 bars, and you know in 23, 22, 21,
that bloody light's going to hit the corner
and I'll have to walk into it.
I was so scared, and I looked at Tommy and he was shaking,
and I thought, "Oh, thank God he's scared, like me!"
"Oh, here it comes..." "Oh, I'm all right now."
-# And though that half a sixpence
-# Can only mean half a romance
# Remember that half a romance is better than none... #
Half A Sixpence told the story of an orphan
who unexpectedly inherits a fortune.
But if this was to be the musical to launch a pop star's switch to the stage,
it would need a stand-out number.
Just two days before opening, the producers realised
that was exactly what was missing.
Unless you've got an 11 o'clock number
that sends the folks out to their buses and their trains whistling it,
you're in trouble. You have not got a hit.
Composer David Heneker had just one day to come up with a solution.
And on the Sunday we met, and they played Flash Bang Wallop.
# Hold it, flash, bang, wallop What a picture
# What a picture What a photograph... #
And because we didn't have time
to work out what I would be doing in the number,
they decided that we'd bring all the company on, and every time I said "Hold it!", they froze.
So we made it in the photographer's studio.
# Stick it in your family album... #
It became the biggest hit of the season.
# One more picture, hold it... #
With a big closing number and the star power of Steele,
Half A Sixpence became a huge hit in the West End and on Broadway.
But the British musical's revival was to be short-lived.
Half A Sixpence would be the last British musical export to America for 15 years.
# Stick it in your family...album! #
GUITAR RIFF PLAYS
A world away from the glamour of Broadway, in mid-'60s Britain,
an alternative movement was growing.
Tens of thousands marched against nuclear weapons,
and in London's East End,
Joan Littlewood reflected these anti-establishment views
with a scathing attack on the military incompetence of World War I.
Oh, What A Lovely War! was inspirational.
To have a musical about a subject like that,
it was quite controversial,
because it wasn't patriotic by any means, it was telling the truth.
With its soundtrack of World War I songs,
Oh, What A Lovely War! not only attacked the generals,
but also outraged many in the audience
by depicting soldiers as Pierrot clowns.
People scrunched their programmes up and threw it at us in disgust.
"How dare you?" Or, "My family were killed in that war
"and you're dancing on the graves of the soldiers..."
As Joan said, "No, we're dancing with them."
# Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag
# And smile, smile, smile... #
It was an extraordinary approach
to a subject that gutted you,
and it was deeply moving -
She managed to get that combination of comedy, song,
dance, everything - and hit you with it.
While Littlewood went on to win awards for Oh, What A Lovely War!,
Lionel Bart had found more success
with the musicals Blitz and Maggie May.
When the two joined up in 1965 for a musical based on Robin Hood,
it looked destined to become Britain's biggest hit musical yet,
particularly when backed by a record-breaking budget of £130,000.
# There he goes again
# On his merry way... #
But problems plagued the production from day one.
'Backstage, it's been toil and trouble almost from the start.
'And the cast of Twang!! have had the longest run ever
'before actually getting in front of a London audience.'
Joan had a sort of free and easy style, out of which she hoped to draw
spontaneity and fresh ideas and...you know.
But it wasn't quite buttoned down enough for me.
How much re-writing has been done at it?
I don't do anything the same.
Things ran out of control, really.
People, you know, making up all sorts of rubbishy little scenes.
One day, a scene is in one spot, and the next it's in another spot.
And then one day, four scenes are cut out.
If you had a good little part and a good little moment,
you were advised not to go to the lavatory,
otherwise either someone would take it over,
or it would have gone entirely, been erased.
'Whole scenes were dumped. Parts were either cut down or expanded.'
Barbara Windsor, among others,
suggests that a lot of dope was being smoked at the time.
Lionel, a year ahead of the Beatles, might have done acid by then,
so there was a drug put into the cocktail.
The creative chemistry that was set up for the original production
did not mix - it exploded.
Twang!! was due to open in Manchester
before transferring to the West End,
but just one day before press night,
Littlewood finally had enough and left the production.
She was seen walking out with a beige folder on her arm
and written in big Pentel on the outside was,
"Lionel's final fuck-up."
so that must have been what she thought at the time.
She said, "I had to leave because Lionel became impossible.
"Every day there was some other new thing he wanted to do."
By that time, ego! Bigger than his hat!
There were two different methods of approach.
Joan Littlewood was doing a commedia dell'arte
grow-while-you-work thing on the scenes,
and I was doing songs elsewhere and her scenes changed every day.
And I just had to keep up with her.
Consequently, when we opened in Manchester, the audience and I
saw a number of the scenes for the first time.
# What makes a star into a star?
# Nobody knows, they simply are. #
Even with more extensive rewrites,
on its West End opening in December 1965,
Twang!! was universally panned.
After playing to mostly empty houses,
it closed one month later after just 43 performances.
I wonder if it was the saddest time in Lionel's life.
I think I'm right in saying
he pumped a lot of his personal money into it to try and keep it...
To try and keep it going.
-Remember Oliver!, Maggie May
and Fings Ain't What They Used To Be?
Well, for Lionel Bart today, fings definitely ain't.
For the man who once earned a fortune from his songwriting
is in debt to the tune of £160,000
and is in the process of being declared bankrupt.
Against all advice,
he had invested his own personal fortune into Twang!!
and lost it all.
He never wrote another successful musical.
By the late '60s, Bart's style of pop-influenced Cockney musical
appeared hopelessly out of date.
# This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius
# The Age of Aquarius... #
Yet another American blockbuster had landed in the West End,
which not only challenged the conventions of musical theatre
but the power of the British establishment.
And its inspiration came from Bart's one-time collaborator.
One influence that I've never really mentioned to anybody before
was a British musical that came to New York.
It was a woman director, Joan Littlewood,
and it was a show called Oh, What A Lovely War!
I remember sitting in the audience
and seeing this musical, this wonderful show,
wonderful the way it was staged, and it was all about war.
I think that was a strong influence on us, because this whole thing
was about the movement that was going on on the streets.
We had the Vietnam war on our screens every night.
We were very aware of what was going on,
and the other thing about Hair was
it celebrated that whole hippy movement
which affected this country as well.
# I got my hair, I got my head I got my brains, I got my ears
# I got my eyes, I got my nose I got my mouth, I got my teeth. #
Hair told the story of a group of young hippies
protesting against the Vietnam war
and wrestling with the sexual revolution.
The creators' backgrounds were in experimental theatre.
Much like Joan Littlewood,
the emphasis was on spontaneity and improvisation.
I think Hair,
which I was part of as being the runner on the original production,
I noticed that, even though the entire thing
from the audience perspective almost seemed improvised,
it was improvised to a very, very careful point,
and the numbers evolved through workshops and things like that,
but they were very cleverly staged.
# I got life, got life, got life, got life, got life, got life, got life. #
To add to the credibility of the show,
the producers cast unknown actors, and, in doing so,
introduced a new generation of talent to the West End.
# I'm just a hairy guy. #
They were looking for kids off the street
rather than trained actors per se.
They were looking for actors who could be moulded
into what they called, "The Tribe."
The audience at the beginning when they came to see Hair,
I feel they felt they were actually seeing real hippies on stage.
I never bought into the tribe thing, to be honest with you.
I mean, Gary Hamilton playing Berger,
used to go on stage in all his hippy outfit, peace, love,
and then he used to walk out the stage door and climb into a Bentley!
I couldn't quite work that one out. It always made me laugh, that.
I didn't live that life.
I didn't go home to a squat with 12 other people.
I mean, some of them did.
I lived in a commune with several other members of the company.
A rather posh commune, I have to say, in Hampstead.
In a penthouse, actually!
# Oh, black boys are nutritious
# Black boy fill me up
# Black boys are so damn yummy
# They satisfy my tummy
# I have such a sweet tooth when it comes to love. #
But at the beginning of 1968,
the Lord Chamberlain still had right of censorship
over new theatre productions.
With overt references to sex and drugs,
Hair was one show he wouldn't let go on.
I had a visit from the Special Branch,
and they warned me what risk I was taking
by opening it.
Probably to intimidate me.
I don't think they would have come to my office otherwise.
The pressure on the Government to reform
the powers of the censor became overwhelming.
On September 24th, after 220 years,
the Lord Chamberlain's powers were finally withdrawn.
Hair really contributed to the change of the law.
It would be on the news day in day out what was happening.
Three days after the censor was abolished, Hair opened,
and the British public had never seen anything like it before.
Are you all in the nude scene?
# Tell me where. #
It was just an expression of people taking their clothes off
saying, "This is who we are."
You can read into that what you like.
Some people probably found it moving.
Other people found they got turned on by it,
but ultimately it was very innocent.
It was much to do about nothing,
except for selling tickets.
For the first time in a musical,
frequent references were made to recreational drug use.
The experimentation with illegal substances continued off stage.
We all dabbled a bit in marijuana, obviously,
and some of the cast smoked a little bit more than others.
I mean, you know, I was a nice suburban girl from Barnet
and I never thought I would ever...
I'm really giving it away now, aren't I?
..ever, you know, try a spliff.
I'm sure that the odd person went on the stage stoned,
but it wasn't a good idea,
because you found yourself just standing there looking at people.
And they're going, "You've got something to say now,"
and you're going, "Yeah. What?"
People would pop off in the interval
on to the roof of the Shaftesbury Theatre
for a quick, you know, tote.
In fact, I'm ashamed to admit,
I think I got fired from Hair eventually,
not for smoking dope,
but they used the excuse that we'd been caught smoking on the roof.
# When the moon is in the Seventh House
# And Jupiter aligns with Mars. #
With its subversive stance and contemporary music,
Hair reached out and spoke to a generation
uninterested in the past conventions of musical theatre.
I think Hair brought a new audience that wouldn't be seen dead
on Shaftesbury Avenue.
Young people who would never think of the theatre
being anything more than a treat for their elderly relatives,
suddenly wanted to see this show because it actually represented them.
We kind of felt that we were changing the world.
The world was changing and we were reflecting it from the point of view
of this very wonderful
love and peace movement.
I never thought we were changing the world.
I thought we were changing theatre.
It was the first time that music of the time,
that is to say rock music, was being used within the context of a musical.
So, from that point of view, it was groundbreaking, I thought.
# Oh, I wanna whole lotta love
# I wanna whole lotta love
# Wanna whole lotta love... #
By the late '60s, British bands like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple
and The Who were getting more ambitious with rock music,
experimenting with extended tracks and concept albums.
In 1970, in what would prove to be
the most radical evolution of the British musical yet,
two aspiring young songwriters released a record
that fused rock with opera.
Jesus Christ Superstar is the first truly great,
truly British rock opera,
cos it's structured like an opera.
Suddenly there was no speaking.
This thing is sung all the way through,
but it's sung to the rhythms and the beats of the '60s generation.
David Land is an agent who looks after the Dagenham Girl Pipers
and the Harlem Globetrotters.
He feels the next big trend could be Jesus Christ Superstar.
# I don't know how to love him. #
Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber
would each bring very different qualities to the British musical.
While both fans of rock music,
lyricist Rice knew next-to-nothing about musical theatre.
Lloyd Webber lived and breathed it.
When we came to work together,
I was probably less conventional than he was.
He was very much in the Broadway/West End tradition.
I had ideas that weren't perhaps traditional,
so the combination of my being slightly uneducated about musicals
and Andrew being very educated about musicals worked.
# I don't see why he moves me... #
Released in 1970, if the album was a hit,
Rice and Lloyd Webber could attract interest from theatre producers
and turn Superstar into a fully-blown stage musical.
We only released the album because nobody wanted to do the show,
and it was not a hit in Britain.
And, as it had been a number one album in America, hugely successful,
it was logical to do it on Broadway first.
# You started to believe the things they say of you
# You really do believe this talk of God is true... #
Hair had previously introduced sex, nudity and drugs to the theatre,
but it seems setting the final days of Jesus Christ to rock music,
was a step too far.
Superstar opened on Broadway in October 1971
to the outrage of Christian groups
and a lukewarm reception from the press.
It didn't work, largely because
the young kids who'd originally bought the album
wouldn't have been seen dead on Broadway in those days.
So, we were slightly ahead of our time. All right, there'd been Hair before,
but Hair probably got people in because everybody got their kit off.
# They think they've found the new Messiah... #
Even with the shaky start on Broadway,
producer Robert Stigwood had plans for an opening in the West End.
But Rice and Lloyd Webber saw their careers faltering
before they even got started.
Tim and Andrew were terrified.
They fought really tooth and nail not to open it,
descended on me at 2am in the morning.
"You will ruin our reputation.
"You will ruin us, you will ruin us."
# Everything's all right Yes, everything's fine
# And we want you to sleep well tonight... #
With producer Robert Stigwood holding the rights,
the West End's latest proteges had to put their nerves to one side
as press attention in Superstar started to grow.
They did a thing with the newspapers.
The search for Jesus is on - a bit like the X Factor, you know.
We're looking for Jesus.
And finally, after extensive auditions
going back and back and back, I finally got the part.
And I was surrounded by press and I made my very first mistake.
Some guy shoved a pint of beer in my hand
and said, "Cheers."
And the shot in the paper was, "Jesus is having a pint."
And I thought, "Oh, never again."
# Jesus Christ Superstar
# Do you think you're what they say you are? #
We had nuns protesting
with placards outside the theatre.
And everybody would say to me, "Anthony, that's brilliant.
"Well done for doing all that."
They did it off their own back. I wasn't telling them to do it.
# Do you think you're what they say you are? #
The title was so radical. Calling Jesus Christ a superstar.
We had people out front protesting just on the basis of the title.
It seemed to me that it was perfectly possible
to take bible stories and tell them in a new way through contemporary music.
That's really all we tried to do.
MUSIC: "Superstar" from Jesus Christ Superstar
Superstar opened in August 1972 to universally good reviews,
the radical interpretation of the gospels
moving audience, critics and even the cast.
It was very overwhelming cos I remember the first time
I went up on this cross - and I'm not a religious guy at all -
and I was sitting on a bicycle seat but you couldn't see it.
And I was holding on to a frame that you also couldn't see.
So I looked like I was hanging in mid-air.
And, for me, when they started playing that John 49,
that Gethsemane music that he'd written, I mean, I just...
Tears were streaming down me.
And it really was a very, very moving moment.
And I guess - for a lot of the audience - seeing that and hearing
that music for the first time, they would have felt the same way.
MUSIC: "John 19:41" from Jesus Christ Superstar
With the West End audience seemingly more spiritually relaxed than on Broadway,
Superstar appealed to believer and non-believer alike.
This was something that people could relate to,
and its producer, Robert Stigwood,
incredibly ingenious idea,
which had never been done before
of replicating the production around the globe.
It was Robert who realised
that you had to roll these musicals out very fast.
And in fact he changed the whole way that musical theatre was considered.
And I owe a huge debt to him because it was Robert's gamble
and his sort of showmanship, that I guess I learned an awful lot from.
# I'd want to see I'd want to see my God... #
Earlier British musicals like Oliver!
had found success by trading on their Britishness.
The story of Jesus Christ was universal.
Allied with a contemporary soundtrack and modern staging,
and its appeal could be limitless.
But the roll-out wasn't without its complications.
When we put it on in Paris, the Archbishop of Paris and the Cardinal
were at the first night.
I was next to them, and Andrew on the other side.
And Andrew was very unhappy.
HE SINGS IN FRENCH
So he jumped out of his seat,
swearing, effing and blinding,
"Oh, terrible, terrible, take this off, take this off."
HE SINGS IN FRENCH
And he ended up running down the aisle,
shouting, "This must be stopped, this must be stopped!"
And I had the embarrassing scene of,
in front of the audience, having to pinion him
against the corner of the proscenium arch
to calm him down.
Andrew was always much more caught up in it. He was...
It mattered more to him.
I mean, of course it mattered to me, but it's rather hard to explain.
But I think the success of Superstar,
and indeed Andrew's musical career,
mattered enormously to him, which is to his great credit.
I think what mattered to me more was that just life went OK,
and this was one aspect of it.
MUSIC: "Overture" from Jeeves
After the success of Superstar, Andrew Lloyd Webber returned to
more traditional British fare, with the PG Wodehouse-inspired Jeeves.
It flopped, running for just over a month.
Meanwhile, Tim Rice had another off-the-wall idea for a musical.
I'd already got this idea about Eva Peron,
so I was working on that for quite a while on my tod,
and while Andrew was doing Jeeves,
I did approach one or two other composers
to see if they'd be interested,
including Paul McCartney, funnily enough. Um...
Nobody wanted to know! HE LAUGHS
MUSIC: "Another Suitcase in Another Hall" from Evita
Their reluctance was understandable.
Most successful musicals were based on well-known books or plays.
Evita was the real-life story of a South American dictator's wife.
With the failure of Jeeves, Andrew came on board.
Nobody really knew much about Eva Peron when we did the show.
And it was clearly a slightly strange topic to go for,
but, on the other hand, it was a great story.
And story is king.
# I don't expect my love affairs to last for long... #
Just as they had with Superstar,
Lloyd Webber and Rice released a concept album first.
But this time, not out of necessity, but design.
It's a bit like an out-of-town run, really.
I think, on the whole, we'd rather do that
than do the out-of-town run, certainly for Evita.
And we're, if you like, testing the music.
Had the record been a total disaster,
then I think we wouldn't have gone ahead with the show.
# So what happens now?
# Another suitcase in another hall... #
The album also generated publicity,
and provided Julie Covington with a number one hit.
An accomplished actress,
Covington was the natural choice to play Evita on the stage.
But, against all expectations, she turned the part down.
Well, Julie just didn't want to do it. And we thought, "Oh, my gosh.
"If she doesn't do it, this could be a major blow to the show."
But it was the best thing that happened in a way - not because... She probably would have been great -
but it was great because there was a kind of nationwide search.
# Eva, Eva, Eva, Eva... #
The audition period for me for Evita was long and tedious.
I must have auditioned eight, nine, I don't know, ten times.
# Eva, Eva... #
Everybody - the world and his wife - auditioned for this role.
Every day, ladies were photographed going in for the auditions.
Faye Dunaway, Liza Minnelli, Barbra Streisand -
all these names were being banded about.
Several of them announced that they'd turned it down! HE LAUGHS
# Evita, Evita... #
It got down eventually to about half a dozen possibles,
of which Elaine was one.
# Evita, Evita... #
My doorbell went about midnight and, to my surprise, it was my agent.
"The role of..." "Yes, yes, yes, get on with it!"
"..Eva Peron is..."
"Yes, yes, just tell me!" "..yours."
# Evita, Evita! #
I was so stunned and excited and shocked.
Here I was with the most coveted role in musical theatre
for donkeys' years -
since the casting of Vivien Leigh in Gone With The Wind,
and I'd landed the role.
Nobody could have been more gobsmacked than me
and my dear mother, who was staying with me for the weekend.
And that was the day my life changed for ever.
# Don't cry for me, Argentina
# The truth is I never left you... #
Tim and Andrew could afford to entrust the starring role to an unknown,
because they'd already hired the world's greatest living
musical theatre director, Hal Prince.
The musical in Britain has been straight-jacketed
as we don't have any decent directors and choreographers.
We're here working with the marvellous Hal Prince.
And I think that we have been able therefore to take a subject
and tackle it in a way that is not normally done
either actually in American theatre or in British theatre.
Because there's a slight combination
of the injection of what Hal has been able to give to us,
and I think perhaps what we've been able to give back.
I knew the first time we put it together that it was...
..something fresh and new and enormously electrifying.
I felt that. I felt that when I did West Side Story, which I produced.
That kind of... That just something amazing is happening here.
Because a lot of people took a chance.
Hal was renowned for bringing realism
to acting and singing in musical theatre,
exactly what was needed for Andrew and Tim's story
of ruthless political ambition.
We could all be there if we all had the drive that I have
and we must all have the drive that I have
and then you'll have these gowns, you'll have these jewels.
You'll be where I am.
I never forget Hal directing me when it came to singing Argentina,
and he would say, "Don't forget, this is not some beautiful ballad.
"I don't want you to be worrying about the melody
"and singing it prettily."
He said, "You have to remember that this is really a political speech."
I'm going to make it hard. I'm going to make it less easy.
One of the most brilliant pieces of direction he gave me,
was to lock my eyes onto various members of the audience.
And he said, "Look at them.
"Don't be afraid to really give them the eyeball."
OK, here we go.
-# It...won't be easy... #
# You'll think it strange
# When I try to explain how I feel
# That I still need your love
# After all that I've done... #
And, to this day, every single time I ever sing this song,
I think of that note and I always do it.
And it's quite extraordinary
how off-putting it is for the person that I look at.
# Don't cry for me, Argentina... #
Six years after the premiere of Jesus Christ Superstar,
Evita opened in June 1978
to advance ticket sales of £250,000,
establishing Rice and Lloyd Webber as far more than one-hit wonders.
Evita as a piece, as a theatrical musical, was probably our peak.
Just because we all kind of knew what we were doing
and were still young enough to be a bit off-the-wall,
and yet we were old enough and experienced enough to do it well.
With Superstar, we hadn't a clue what we were doing.
MUSIC: "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina" from Evita
'She did so well, the audience gave her and the show a standing ovation.
'And the critics hailed a new star.
'Hardly anyone seemed happier with it all than Elaine's mother and father,
'up from Bognor Regis to share their daughter's triumph
'after ten years in chorus lines and rep.'
It's one of those moments -
every so often a musical comes along, which pushes what the musical
can achieve further than anyone had imagined could happen.
And what Evita did
was it caught what fascinates us all about politics.
What we really care about, I think, is a soap opera of power
and what that means for us,
what does it say about the human condition?
And that is exactly what Lloyd Webber and Rice caught in Evita.
# High flying, adored
# Did you believe... #
A year later, Evita opened on Broadway for a four-year run,
cementing Lloyd Webber and Rice as not just stars of the West End,
but also the first British talents to triumph in New York for 15 years.
They had the world at their feet.
I don't think at the time we were aware of history or our place in it.
We just thought, "This is working quite well.
"I'm not quite sure what we're doing right, but let's keep going."
# I won't recall the names and places
# Of each sad occasion
# But that's no consolation
# Here and now
-# So what happens now?
-Another suitcase in another hall... #
But as the '70s came to a close, the unimaginable happened.
At the height of their song-writing powers,
the partnership came to an end.
Well, it was a sadness that they stopped working together,
because they were kind of becoming the Rodgers and Hammerstein
of modern British musical theatre.
They were really consolidating their writing partnership.
Sadly, it was over a musical that was in the making for me.
Tim wanted to write a musical for me
and Andrew had started writing melodies for it.
And Tim, at the time - he's a great cricket fan, as everybody knows -
and quite slow in writing lyrics, not everybody knows!
-But Andrew knew!
So, he wasn't coming up with the lyrics for Andrew.
I guess my heart wasn't quite in it.
We did write one song and it never really took off.
And suddenly I found Andrew was doing it with Don Black.
-# Take that look off your face
-Take that look off your face
# I can see through your smile... #
Tell Me On A Sunday launched as a TV special in February 1980.
It was a new decade, and Andrew had a new writing partner.
The story goes that Andrew bumped into Don Black and Don,
who is prolific, said, "Oh, I'll write you a few lyrics if you want."
Which he did. So the idea moved from working with Tim to Don.
And I think they had a bit of a bust-up over it, to be honest.
As I remember it, they fell out over that.
And that's really when it all came to a bit of a grinding halt,
I think at the time I thought, "This is a pity, really.
"We kind of cocked this one up.
"We've done quite well and now we're not going to be Gilbert and Sullivan."
What you need for two people to work together is both of them
have to be enthusiastic about the same idea.
I mean, Andrew always said, "Oh, well, he only works on his own ideas."
Well, to a certain extent that's true, I suppose.
But if Andrew had come up with an idea that I thought was brilliant,
I might have done it. I probably would have.
# Life to the
# Everlasting cat... #
Rice and Lloyd Webber's partnership was over.
But together they had helped bring the West End and the British musical
back into contention with the might of Broadway.
# Jellicles do and Jellicles can... #
Next time on The Story Of The Musical, how in less than a decade
the British turned the West End show into a world-beating mega-musical.
We happened to all want to do stories,
which had a worldwide appeal.
We, none of us, knew that up front.
You've got to do it yourself.
You are a producer. That's what you do. Got to produce it yourself.
These cheques started hitting the doormat that made my eyes wobble.
# Oratorical cats, delphioracle cats
# Sceptical cats, dyspeptical cats
# Romantical cats, pedantical cats
# Critical cats, parasitical cats
# Allegorical cats metaphorical cats
# Statistical cats and mystical cats
# Political cats, hypocritical cats... #
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