Andrew Lloyd Webber 1948– Tim Rice 1944–
Webber (not shown)—British composer, author, and producer.
Rice (pictured at right)—British lyricist, author, and producer.
The works of Webber and Rice are musical interpretations of biblical and historical figures and events. They are studies of charismatic young men and women who command great power. Webber's music is a pastiche of such twentieth-century popular styles as vaudeville, rock, calypso, country, and soul, although his works are often structured in classical and operatic forms. Rice's lyrics are important for their authentic presentation of the team's subjects in contemporary language. Webber and Rice began writing pop songs together in 1966, but had little success until their single "Jesus Christ Superstar" became a hit and convinced them to build an entire work around it.
With Jesus Christ Superstar Webber and Rice present the story of Christ's last days on earth in a non-traditional form, the rock opera. The purpose of the drama is to show the reaction to Jesus during His own lifetime. The work was immediately controversial; it is considered radical because it ends with Christ's crucifixion rather than with His resurrection. Another controversy generated by Superstar is the composer's sympathetic portrayal of Judas, through whose eyes the story is told; most critics, however, believe this point of view to be truly innovative. The film version of Superstar is considered as blasphemous as the play. However, many church officials acknowledged it as a favorable means of relating the Bible to young people in a form and language which appeals to them.
Prior to Superstar Webber and Rice collaborated on a shorter piece, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, which was first written as a private production for a boys's school and is also based on a biblical story. Some reviewers see it as superficial, but many think it more charming and less pretentious than Superstar. With Evita, Webber and Rice created a genuine opera about the career of Eva Perón, an opportunist who became the wife of Argentine dictator Juan Perón in the 1950s. Evita shares Superstar's theme of the effects of mass popularity and is told by radical leader Ché Guevara. However, it is generally considered inferior to its predecessor, and many critics have felt it is saved only by its brilliant staging.
Rice's lyrics have been criticized for their banality, and both authors have been attacked for their uncertain handling of their subject. Audiences, however, have been receptive to Evita, just as they have to all of Webber and Rice's works. According to John Coldstream, their success is "on a scale matched in this generation by Lennon and McCartney."