At Broadway's refurbished New Amsterdam Theatre, Tim Rice and Alan Menken's new work, King David ended a nine performance world premiere engagement May 23 for Walt Disney Theatrical Productions. The concert event reopened the historic, opulently- restored 94-year-old former home of the Ziegfeld Follies, which began a decline in 1947 when it became a 42nd Street "grind house" for movies.
Rice, after meetings on the forthcoming stage adaption of The Lion King and attending a tribute to Kander and Ebb, arrived breathless and late at the sound truck on the 41st Street side of the New Amsterdam to supervise with Menken a live recording of King David at the May 20 performance.
"It didn't start well," said lyricist Rice. "The sound board computer went out and the first act had to be mixed by hand."
Before and after the Tuesday show, Rice was in the theatre checking the sound and visiting friends. He was literally mobbed for autographs, a situation he seems to find uncomfortable.
"Thankfully," he says between signing programs, "the computer came back on for the second act and all went smoothly. It was sounding very strong, I'm happy to say, especially since we're rushing to release it toward the end of June." As a safeguard, the Wednesday matinee and evening performances were recorded. The art work is finished and ads are already trumpeting the forthcoming CD. Orders were being taken for the Walt Disney Records album in the Disney store and at the various New Amsterdam gift boutiques.
Rice feels the New Amsterdam's gala reopening may have presented King David at a disadvantage. "It would have been nice to have an out of town tryout, say in far-off Minneapolis. I can put my finger on the factors that mitigated against us."
He was referring, no doubt, to some less than enthusiastic reviews and the fact that some audience members didn't return for the second act.
"From the point of view of the piece, it might not have been the best way to open cold in a magnificent, virtually new theatre, which inevitably attracted a lot of attention. And all this stress and work to play only a few days. On the other hand, Alan and I feel it's been a terrific chance to get something on the boards quickly. We intended this to be the first stage of development. Instead of having continuing previews, we're regrouping in six to nine months -- after Lion King."
According to Rice, he was intrigued for years about King Saul and had considered a musical piece. "Then we were commissioned by an Israeli producer to commemorate the 3,000th anniversary of the city of Jerusalem," said Rice, "with the focus to be on King David. I knew him to be associated with Saul but I didn't know much more. I found him to be one of the most fascinating characters in the Old Testament.
"We were to write something fairly serious, fairly-- I don't want to say religious, although it's a religious story, something geared for an oratorio rather than a musical, something outdoors for Jerusalem and not for indoors on Broadway. When it proved logistically and financially impossible to do it and Disney took an interest, we changed gears. But we didn't want to change the piece. That was a problem We felt we'd been commissioned to write it as an oratorio, and still hoped it would be performed as such in Israel. Perhaps, on the road to New York, we should have emphasized that more to avoid being judged primarily as a Broadway show."
There is work to be done, says Rice. "It's not finished. Perhaps as we gear it for Broadway, it should be less Sheba and more Bath."
Rice, 6'2" and husky, is a gentle giant, modest and self-effacing. His bio in the King David program is a fraction of the size of Menken's and director Mike Ockrent's, in spite of his vast career and makes no mention of his Tonys and Oscars.
With Andrew Lloyd Webber, he wrote the world-wide hits Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Jesus Christ Superstar, and, after becoming fascinated with the late Eva Peron, the 1979 West End smash and 1980 Tony-winning Evita (he also won for Book and, with Lloyd Webber, for Score), "a project that at first didn't terribly turn on Andrew, but he came round."
The team had their differences and split. Rice went on to Chess with Abba and other rock operas and musicals. King David marks his third collaboration with Menken, who he joined after the death of Howard Ashman to expand the animated Disney film Beauty and the Beast for the stage and complete the score for the animated Aladdin. They received Academy Awards for Score and Song on the latter.
For The Lion King film, Rice and John won a Best Song Oscar; and this year, Rice and Lloyd Webber took an Oscar for Best Song, "You Must Love Me," which they wrote for the Evita film. He's at work with John on a stage musical of Aida. Rice, who's written numerous books on British pop music, is also writing his autobiography.