Royal & Derngate Theatre, Northampton
Every now and then a show takes place that is unique, witty, exquisitely put together and quite simply unforgettable. So it is with An Evening With Sir Tim Rice, touring England for this week only, in which an all-encompassing medley of songs from Sir Tim’s shows is performed, interspersed with sparkling anecdotes from the man who is arguably musical theatre’s greatest living lyricist.
The evening kicked off with a couple of songs from Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Rice’s first musical success, sung by the magnificently voiced quartet of Shonagh Daly, Laura Tebbutt, Ricardo Afonso and Dean Chisnall – all accompanied by the Duncan Waugh Band, a four-piece ensemble. All eight performers combined through the show to perform flawlessly. After the Joseph opener, Chisnall introduced Sir Tim who amiably sauntered onto the stage – aided by a stick and confessing to the crowd that it has only been 4 weeks since he had a hip replacement – immediately launching into the first of many, witty, fascinating reveals about the stories behind his songs and his shows.
Aside from his famed collaborations with Andrew Lloyd-Webber, Rice reminded us that he has worked with musical giants that include Elton John, Alan Menken, the guys from ABBA, John Barry, with songs that include not only West End and Broadway classics, but also standalone pop numbers written for David Essex (A Winters Tale)and even Elvis Presley (It’s Easy For You).
Rice’s anecdotes through the evening were wry, witty and occasionally poignant, particularly as he referenced the tragic young death of lyricist Howard Ashman midway through writing Disney’s Aladdin with Menken. Rice was to step in and finish the movie, gaining an Oscar in so doing for penning A Whole New World, but his humility as he spoke of Ashman said much for Rice’s innate modesty and understatement – charms matched only by his lyrical genius.
A neat twist on the gig sees Rice proudly displaying his most spectacularly garnered gongs. Being one of the few EGOT winners (Emmy, Granny, Oscar and Tony) over the course of his career, Rice delights in displaying all four trophies (remember that even that is an understatement, he’s actually won three Oscars) complete with supporting anecdotes, with one of the evening’s closing arrangements being a medley of his three Oscar-winners: You Must Love Me, from Evita, Can You Feel The Love Tonight (The Lion King) and the aforementioned Aladdin number.
But it is not just his Broadway smash successes that delight Rice. He speaks with evident pride and love for Chess, a show that had a troubled critical outing and yet contains spectacular songs – indeed the interval is bookended (as is Chess’ interval) with the majestic Anthem (Chisnall) followed after the break by One Night In Bangkok (Afonso) . What is even more fascinating, with shows such as Chess (inspired by the Fischer and Spassky encounters) and Evita (inspired by the life of Eva Peron) is the glimpse that Rice gives us into his own thinking that sparked the inspiration of both shows. Such is Rice’s talent in wit, narrative and research – alongside meticulous human observation, that his songs are such a source of entertainment and intellectual stimulation.
Mercifully Rice lets the professionals do all the singing – he does however give us a moment of vocals on an early unpublished song, Kansas Morning that subsequently metamorphosed into the far more delightful I Don’t Know How To Love Him from Jesus Christ Superstar, sung perfectly on the night by Tebbutt. Later, before the evening’s finale, it is Daly’s responsibility to deliver an equally stunning Don’t Cry For Me Argentina.
The uniqueness of this evening is the opportunity to listen to an array of familiar numbers, songs that have, in part, formed the backdrop to most of our lives, not just performed to perfection, but all sung under the watchful eye of the songs’ creator. Such moments are not just rare, they are a priceless privilege.
To take Rice’s Bond song from Octopussy – An Evening With Sir Tim Rice is an All Time High.