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At the 2018 Olivier Awards, held in massive Royal Albert Hall, it was no surprise that Hamilton and Angels in America scored big. The musical captured seven of its record 13 nominations.
Play: The Ferryman [which captured eight nominations]by Jezz Buterworth (Jerusalem). [Play opens in October at Broadway’s Jacobs Theatre.]
Score: Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton.
Choreography: Andy Blankenbuehler, Hamilton.
Outstanding Achievement in Music: Miranda and orchestrator AlexLacamoire, Hamilton.
Director, Play: Sam Mendes, The Ferryman. [The category makes no distinction between Play and Musical.]
Revival, Play: Royal National Theatre’s Angels in America, Parts One and Two, TonyKushner [now on Broadway with the original stars Andrew Garfield and NathanLane].
Revival, Musical: Follies, Stephen Sondheim.
Actor, Play: Brian Cranston, Network, adapted by Lee Hall (Billy Elliott).
Actress, Play: Laura Donnelly, The Ferryman.
Actor, Supporting, Play: Bertie Carve, Ink [by James Graham, about mogul Rupert Murdoch].
Actor, Musical: Giles Terera (Aaron Burr), Hamilton. Actress, Supporting, Play: Denise Gough (Harper Pitt), Angels In America, Parts One and Two. [She’s now on Broadway.]
Actress, Musical: Shirley Henderson, Girl from the North Country [Conor McPherson's musical, scheduled to come to Broadway, is based on the work of Bob Dylan; with book and lyrics by Tom Eyen and music Henry Krieger, Dreamgirls].
Actor, Supporting, Musical: Michael Jibson (King George III), Hamilton. Actress, Supporting, Musical: Sheila Atim, Girl from the North Country.
Presenters this year included Cuba Gooding Jr., Andrew Lloyd Webber, Patti LuPone, Chita Rivera, Michael Sheen, and Juliet Stevenson.
Among U.S. shows nominated were Oslo, An American in Paris, Five Guys Named Moe, 42nd Street, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, and Young Frankenstein. Performances from nominated musicals included: Hamilton; Everybody's Talking About Jamie; Girl from the North Country, Young Frankenstein, Follies and 42nd Street.
Ms. Rivera, Andy Karl (2017 Olivier, Actor, Musical, Groundhog Day), and Adam J. Bernard (2017 Olivier, Actor, Supporting, Dreamgirls) performed "Somewhere"for the In Memoriam segment.
A special 50th anniversary honor went to Tim Rice and Lloyd Webber’s Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat with past stars including Jason Donovan and Linzi Hateley.
Sheen introduced the In Memoriam segment. Among those remembered and known here were: Hywel Bennett (film/TV actor, Loot, Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy, Eastenders, Pennies from Heaven, Shelley), David Cassidy, Barbara Cook, Bruce Forsyth (legendary Brit actor/comedian/singer/dancer), Peter Hall, Thomas Meehan, Roger Moore, Bernard Pomerrance [playwright, The Elephant Man), Sam Shepard, and Stuart Thompson (six-time Tony-winning producer).
Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber worked in earnest on the Jesus Christ project. From the very beginning Lloyd Webber knew what he wanted. It would be a mash-up: a fusion of symphony orchestra, rock, and soul. But first they needed capital and a label.
Lloyd Webber figured a scheme to get backing. He sent the Joseph … album to real estate mogul Sefton Myers. At their meeting, which also included prominent attorney/manager David Land, he discussed backing to create a pop music museum. Myers inquired about the lyricist. Lloyd Webber was quick to point out Rice was “a cutting edge record executive” and they had many projects in mind. The museum was of no interest to Myers, but another meeting was set up. They were offered a three-year management contract, which provided £2,000 annually with further increases upon contract renewal. Myers and Land became not just managers but father figures with Myers providing most of the cash and Land the legal ins and out. [After Myers’ death, Land continued to guide Rice and Lloyd Webber through later successes.]
Their musical would cover Christ's last week on Earth as seen through the eyes of Mary Magdalene and apostle Judas Iscariot. In his autobiography, Rice wrote: “As the apostle who betrayed Jesus is given extraordinarily scant attention in the Gospels … we would be able to put words in Judas’ mouth without fear of being scripturally inaccurate. In other respects, I was determined to be as faithful as possible to the story as per Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.”
Land, Jewish, was less than enthused about the Jesus Christ project, but he was respectful of Rice and Webber’s artistic freedom. He and Myers shopped the project to British Decca, a very conservative organization [and no relation to MCA’s U.S. Decca]. The label passed stating they’d their share of the contemporary sound with such artists as the Rolling Stones, Tom Jones, and Englebert Humperdinck – adding they had no desire to get embroiled in controversy. The composers felt that the success of their rock opera depended on its reception in the U.S. RCA was a company with deep roots in America as well as Europe, but there was an emphatic “Not interested."
MCA-UK, a much smaller operation, had huge ties in the U.S. with the parent companies’ three main labels. Luck was in the duo’s corner. Their writer/producer colleague Mike Leander was now head of A&R. When informed of the project, he became quite enthused – as did U.K. label president Brian Brolly. Though Rice and Lloyd Webber were thinking full throttle ahead, instead of commissioning the whole composition and giving the duo a large advance, Leander decided to send up a flag to gauge public acceptance.
“They bit big time,” enthused Lloyd Webber. Coming up the ranks, he had thoroughly educated himself in the ins and outs of music rights and was savvy enough never to sign his and Rice’s grand rights in case the envisioned stage musical came to be.
There was only a vague outline of what Rice and Lloyd Webber envisioned as their musical. Rice was busy crafting lyrics for their first composition – for which his partner created a three-cord structure that grew in power with a fanfare written for their doomed King David project.
Rice often mused over a Bob Dylan lyric from “With God on His Side,” a song about the morality of wars on his 1964 album The Times They Are a-Changin. The lyric in the last stanza reads: “ … I been thinkin’ about this, that Jesus was betrayed by a kiss; but I can’t think for you, you’ll have to decide whether Judas Iscariot had God on his side.” The finished tune was a blistering tirade by Judas, whom Rice felt got the “short shrift” in the Gospel recounting of Jesus’ passion. It was christened “Superstar.” Using slang and allusions to modern life, the song depicts Judas as a tragic figure dissatisfied with and questioning the direction Jesus steers His apostles and disciples. Rice stated he wanted the apostle to ask Jesus the type of questions he’d like to ask.
The team had been working on musical motifs everywhere even, as MCA international vice president Richard Broderick reported, in a “joint” specializing in American-style burgers which Rice and Lloyd claimed wasn’t the case. [In his memoir Unmasked, the composer mentions writing on paper napkins [however, maybe it wasn’t in a burger joint]. The ever-open, ever-direct Rice recounts he wrote some lyrics while waiting for his mother to prepare lunch one Sunday.
In an amazing act of trust, Brolly and Leander not only granted Lloyd Webber his every whim, but also gave the duo full control. The budget of slightly under £10,000. The composer became the natural choice to do the orchestrations. He informed that he wanted “nothing fancy,” just a symphony orchestra, rock band, and gospel singers “with a bluesy lead vocal.”
MCA delivered. There were 56 musicians, who became the Andrew Lloyd Webber Orchestra, a rock band with acoustic and electric guitars and drums, an organ, and two choirs – one of pop singers, the other with gospel singers. In addition, the Trinidad Singers were brought in for backing vocals. The rock ensemble consisted of musicians from Joe Cocker's Grease Band.
September 1969: “Superstar” recording session begins
They hit the studio in earnest in September. The composers chose Murray Head to do the vocal. His recording career hadn’t taken off, but he was appearing on the West End in Hair and being considered by director John Schlesinger for a lead in the film Sunday, Bloody, Sunday, a romantic triangle involving him, Peter Finch, and Glenda Jackson [he got the role]. According to Rice, Head was dubious the recording would take place yet “he still agreed to come aboard.” That gesture was more evidence to him that he and Lloyd Webber were creating something – whether loved or loathed – appreciated or misunderstood – that would be hard to ignore.
The sessions, which ran into October, were recorded on eight-track tape at Olympic Studios, constructed in 1906 as a repertory theatre, on Church Road in the suburb of Barnes, with organ tracks done in a nearby church. Lloyd Webber’s bent for perfection caused the budget to skyrocket to the point it rose to the level labels allot for most albums. Brolly began to worry. A few executives referred to the undertaking as “Brian’s Folly.” Though he continued to support the sessions, he assigned an executive from the Classical Division to keep a close eye and lid on expenses.
MCA sought secrecy, however, with Olympic being the studio where such legendary groups as the Beatles, Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin recorded, word spread under and over ground that MCA was recording a megaproject.
Soon, Rice added Superstar to the project title. “If we called it Jesus Christ we’d have had it, despite the fact that Cliff Richard had recorded a song titled “Jesus” and got away with it.” He admitted what Richard, with his immense popularity, got away with might spell disaster for the neophytes they were.
Rice described the October 5 and 6 sessions with a tinge of poignancy: “Murray sang beautifully, with great strength and passion … [with the pop vocalists] echoing his anguished cries of ‘Don’t you get me wrong’ and ‘I only want to know,’ the classical orchestral lineup adding all kinds of color and mystery … The power of the music now easily matched that of the lyric, and all concerned knew we had created something out of the ordinary.”October 20th the writers took the finished tape to Brolly, who played it twice. He was so enthused he called it one of the best he’d ever heard. When Broderick arrived from New York, heard the tape, met Rice, and became so enthusiastic he wired New York of his discovery, Brolly advised he wanted a U.S. release very close to what he was planning. Now, all Broderick had to do was sell the project to New York and Universal City.
“Superstar” would be the beginning of a turning point for MCA and the Decca label.
Before Jack Loetz in New York gave the go-ahead for the U.S. release, L.A. music head Berle Adams reported a labels uprising. Why is Decca getting “Superstar” when Uni, the L.A.-based house label, was hot with Neil Diamond and top-selling, charted pop singles – including several Number Ones – and had been picked by U.K.-based Dick James Music as the label for the U.S. debut of Elton John. Kapp Records also raised a ruckus, noting its established pop stars.
Broderick put forward the idea that if all three labels wanted the single, why not release on all three simultaneously. Loetz, still skeptical of its reception, leaned toward Decca since that was where his allegiance lay. Tony Martel, the VP of sales and marketing, made the argument that Decca was geared to sell albums, and a Jesus Christ LP was Rice and Webber’s goal. The decision was left to Adams.
Martell had a favorite saying: A good record – a hit – could sell itself, say at least a half-million to a million copies; but to get to the magic Gold status, you need merchandising know-how to sell a million dollars worth of product [today’s Platinum standard]. He’d proven at Columbia he could deliver and was making big headway at Decca with The Who.
Loetz convinced Adams Decca was the way to go. However, in the end, Adams decided with a coin toss. Decca won the prize.
Marketing with good taste and clergy backing
The special handling promise was kept. Creative director Bill Levy designed a simple white sleeve. On front was a sketch of a God-like figure, which looked more like Methuselah, the Biblical son of Enoch, father of Lamech, and grandfather of Noah, who lived 969 years, than the traditional depiction of Jesus. Above the drawing was the single-word title. There was no mention of Jesus Christ, but information on the back cover carried the prophetic words "from the rock opera Jesus Christ now in preparation."
Nowhere was it indicated the song was sung by Judas. On the back, below the names of Rice, Lloyd Webber, Head, and the Trinidad Singers, the lyrics – some difficult to understand on first listening with the composer’s incredible, but way over-the-top orchestrations – were printed. To lessen chances of cries that the record was sacrilege, and to give it an official imprimatur, a quote from Dean Sullivan of St. Paul’s Cathedral, who had warned Lloyd Webber that might be controversy, was printed across the back.
His message read: “There are some people who may be shocked by this record. I ask them to listen and think again. It is a desperate cry. Who are you Jesus Christ? Is the urgent enquiry, and a very proper one at that. The record probes some answers and makes some comparisons. The anus is on the listening to come up with replies. If he is a Christian, let him answer for Christ. The singer says he only wants to know. He’s entitled to some response.”
Before MCA-U.K. could worry about outraging Christian society, they had to worry about securing airplay. That couldn’t be done without a flip side, but nothing further had been composed. Lloyd Webber at the piano and created a stunning instrumental piece, which Rice titled "John 19:41." [The first half was later incorporated into the rock opera as “Gethsemane (I Only Want to Say).”] The title referred not to the year of the attack on Pearl Harbor, as Rice took pains to explain, but the chapter and verse in the fourth Gospel describing Jesus’ burial place. Lloyd Webber wrote an arrangement that showcased the pop and rock aspects of his music. In the U.K., “John 19:41” was used in its entirety; but in the States, Decca decided to cut it in half because the latter portion amounted to little more than a jazz improvisation.]
“Superstar” hit stores November 21, 1969, rolling out with a larger than usual promotion. Very little was heard of it after that.
Rice noted that pop was infiltrating Christianity in a big way – in the U.S. There was “Oh, Happy Day” from Stephen Schwartz’s hit Off Broadway musical he and Lloyd Webber were soon to see, Godspell, an energetic, bouncy tale of Christ with its share of vaudeville moments, loosely based on the Gospel according to Matthew; and Lawrence Reynolds and Jack Cardwell’s “Jesus Is a Soul Man,” Reynolds recorded to hit status: Number 28 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart. Ironically, Decca artist Conway Twitty had a hit with it in the country arena. Controversy reigned; success did notThat didn’t help “Superstar” across the pond. There was no religious outrage or protests – yet. There were all of two reviews in the music trades – both favorable. One of radio’s most popular radio shows, Pick of the Pops, programmed the song several times. On another station, a DJ labeled it “possibly the most controversial record ever released” and went as far as to call it “a direct attack on the teachings and beliefs of Jesus Christ.” Rice laughed, "That was about the sum total of the excitement the record stirred in England."
Lloyd Webber had a good friend in TV host David Frost. An appearance on his hugely popular show could mean big things for the record. Frost, never one to shy away from the controversial, eagerly had them on. He introduced Head, stating that he would do a song from a forthcoming rock opera called Jesus Christ. No sooner than he finished, the network switchboard became jammed with protest calls for over an hour.
The label and Dean Sullivan got response – just not what they had hoped for. The two BBC radio networks banned the record. South Africa also prohibited airplay [and later the album] on the state-owned radio network.
At home, "Superstar" was shipped to Decca distributors and radio stations with much fanfare the first Monday in December. The single arrived at major stations hand-delivered by promotion staff with a press kit. A series of ads and features heralded the single in music trades Billboard and Cash Box. One release explained how Decca was treating “Superstar” with taste to avoid any branding of the record as sacrilege. An ad quoted Dean Sullivan’s message above that God-like sketch. But the ad Decca ran in the trades of December 22nd raised eyebrows with copy that read: “We wish to inform you that all MCA offices will be closed on December 25 in observance of Superstar’s birthday.” Each letter of the song title was capped with snow. Later ads were steeped in good taste.
There was hope this new release would be what the industry calls a sleeper,
that steady sales and increased airplay would net a smash. But there was little
interest in “Superstar.” Decca was at the point where the executives felt they had an expensive fiasco. All of Martel’s savvy marketing couldn’t hide a blunder. As the record dropped, the airwaves were flooded with holiday cheer and traditional tunes of the season. Especially at Christmas, controversy was to be avoided. Probably even a month earlier wouldn’t have made much difference because the holidays began with Thanksgiving.
Broderick, thankfully, had the foresight to personally slip a copy to popular WNEW-FM night DJ Scott Muni, who had helped launch numerous hits. After each play, Muni’s call-in line was tied up with listener questions about the single – and occasional protest.
FM began to pave the way for a hit, but AM play was needed to score on the trade charts. At the end of December, Martel released a statement to the trades: “While many stations have adopted a ‘wait and see’ attitude, those who have been playing ‘Superstar’ have received nearly a 75% positive response from their listening audiences. For the most part, stations playing the single are giving it ‘special handling.’” The latter referred to markets such as New York, Miami, and Cleveland where following a play, DJs held discussions with clergy.
An item in Time gave a boost to sales and airplay: “Considerable air time in the U.S. and England has been devoted to ‘Superstar,’ a soaring, foot-tapping single from a rock opera about Jesus Christ now being written in London.
Way ahead of the U.K. and U.S. was the popularity the single was reaping on the international scene, particularly in countries which were predominantly Catholic – France, Italy, Spain, and the Netherlands. That cause for celebration was partly due to programming of the single on the Armed Forces radio network and Radio Luxembourg.
The high hopes were that the single would lead to a rock opera album, which would lead to concerts and a stage production with handsome royalties which MCA would participate in. However, the record never soared above the high 80s on the Billboard and Cash Box charts. By May 1970, sales had only slightly exceeded 100,000 copies. For most 45 R.P.M. releases that would be quite healthy; but with all that was riding on the single’s success in the U.S. the future of a Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber rock opera appeared dubious.
In the scheme of everyday business affairs, when costs aren’t recouped you throw in the towel. That wasn’t the case with “Superstar.” Great faith persisted. Rice and Webber put their noses to the grindstone, writing another 20 songs. The result was a sung-through concept album with elements of classical oratorio and raw emotions set to an intense rock beat. The two-disc album went on to worldwide blockbuster sales status.
That wasn’t the end of the story. So much more was to happen. Entertainment history was to be made.
With the 1968 release of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, not only a mega sales blockbuster but also the album that changed the course of rock music, every record label was looking for another Beatles.
MCA Records, a division of Music Corporation of America/Universal Studios, like Columbia and RCA Records, was once an industry leader. Now, its major imprint Decca was considered a stable, old-line company not identified with contemporary sounds. Not exactly true: through a licensing agreement, they were at the vanguard of the “British invasion,” doing a laudable job of launching The Who. There were respectable sales from three LPs, but
That was soon to change.
For their fourth LP, The Who went into the studio with a theme leads Pete Townsend and Roger Daltry christened a “rock opera.” Townshend came up
with the concept after meeting Indian spiritual master and “avatar” Meher Baba.
He musicalized the story of “a psychosomatically deaf, dumb, and blind boy who becomes a master pinball player and object of a religious cult.” Tommy was acclaimed by critics, rejuvenating the band's reputation. Copies were flying off record store shelves and there was a sell-out U.K. tour.
The logical next stop was the U.S. The band was booked for a 5 A.M. concert at 1969’s Woodstock Music Festival, which turned into a riotous event of screaming fans. Decca awoke to unprecedented requests for product. It finally had its first mega smash in almost two decades – and first top-charted LP. [Tommy became one of the most influential albums in rock annals, eventually racking up sales in excess of 25 million, with later successful film and stage adaptations, and induction into the Grammy Hall of Fame].
TV had hurt movie house box offices to the point that MCA transformed its lot into a TV movie and series assembly line. Tommy’s immense popularity suggested another way to pump up the bottom line. The company was in a unique position with film, TV, and music, to use their record artists to crossover to TV for guest-starring roles. However, the company didn’t have The Who under contract, only their records.
The Nashville division, with the rising popularity of country rocker Conway Twitty and coal miner’s daughter Loretta Lynn, was thriving, but these and other country artists didn’t yet have wide appeal or simply weren’t quite ready for prime time. Decca had a rich legacy of albums from long-ago show business giants and a catalog of Broadway original cast albums [including Oklahoma!], but that wasn’t what TV audiences were demanding.
Anything and everything was tried, with dismal results. Berle Adams, a former agent and music publisher who also dabbled as a film producer, the music division’s L.A.-based top executive, instituted a search for new leaders.
New York’s old guard was sent into exile. New, savvier executives were brought in to find the next big power band that could keep the adrenalin flowing. The New York office’s chief Jack Loetz had been a top lieutenant to Columbia’s Clive Davis. As vice president, he brought with him one of the industry’s top marketing and sales experts, Tony Martel. Richard Broderick, a tall, large, robust, balding white-hired man, who’d worked with Colonel Tom Parker and Elvis at RCA, was onboard as international VP.
On a scouting trip, Broderick met in London with MCA’s U.K. chief Brian Brolly, who told him he was on to something big. He played a session tape. “It’s called ‘Superstar.’ It’s from a new rock opera.” Broderick, Irish and a devout Catholic didn’t blink. He was so bowled over, he wanted to hear it again. Brolly arranged an introduction to the composers. Informed that the U.K. division was setting a release date, and wanted a U.S, roll out, Broderick wired New York: “I’ve found what everyone’s been looking for.”
November 4, 1969
Each Tuesday at 11 A.M. Decca’s department heads converged one floor up from their offices at Park Avenue and 57th Street to the MCA board room where they sipped coffee, reviewed sales reports, and sampled upcoming product. Artists & Repertory [A&R] manager John Walsh, a tall blond with matinee idol looks and long shaggy hair who was dubbed the “house hippie,” played demos over what he called “one of the world's worst stereo systems.”
Loetz arrived and seated himself next to Martell. Both had been given a sneak preview. Loetz had concerns; Martel was gung-ho. The helping of tunes did nothing to satisfy the staff. The always-direct James Slaughter, who worked with A&R and Sales, stated, “It’s the same ole same ole.”
When it came to product from Nashville by Queen of Country Music Kitty Wells
and legendary Texas troubadour Ernest Tubb, the 16 staffers squirmed in their chairs. The release from Jay Lee Webb, brother of Loretta Lynn, "Your Cow's Gonna Get Out," brought snide remarks. As staffers derided it, Loetz reprimanded his team: "Gentlemen, The Who and Nashville are what's keeping our doors open!"
Martel motioned to Broderick. He came forward with a 45 R.P.M. vinyl, and solemnly intoned, "There's one more, gentlemen – something quite unusual. Our other labels don't know about it. It will be a Decca scoop. It’s a record from England called ‘Superstar’ by a young composing team, Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber. Quite a fortune was spent on the session and it’s going to blow your minds.”
The record was to be released toward the end of the month in the U.K. and Decca planned an early December launch. He explained, “This won’t just be a single. 'Superstar' is from Jesus Christ, a still unfinished concept album about Christ’s last days. There’s going to be a rock band with the best Britian has to offer plus, get this, a full symphony orchestra. It will be the most expensive in-house project in Decca's history.” Hopefully, you’ll listen with an open mind. The young Brits are calling it a rock opera. We know something about rock operas.”
The tune blasted a pulsating blues rock rhythm as Head sang:
“Every time I look at you, I don’t understand Why you let the things you did get so out of hand.
Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ
Who are you? What have you sacrificed?
Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ,
Who are you? What have you sacrificed?
Jesus Christ, Superstar
Do you think you're what they say you are?
Jesus Christ, Superstar
Do you think you're what they say you are?”
Martel was tapping his hand against the side of the table. The room fell silent, only suddenly to become engrossed in alternating veins of confused conversation, surprise that segued to shock, and, for a few, excitement. Finally, someone blurted, “Dick, what the hell kinda record is this?” Broderick replied, “Something that can be a monster."
“Who’s this guy?” asked one. “Judas,” Broderick replied. “Judas? He betrayed Jesus! Dick, if we put this out, every churchman in the country will stone us. And not just with rocks, but with boulders!”
More feedback followed: “A record like that won’t get airplay,” “No one will touch it,” “All listeners are going to hear is ‘Jesus Christ, who are you? What have you sacrificed?’”, “If you want publicity, this’ll give it to you! The negative kind!”, and “If the record’s causing this kinda stir here, you know it’s gonna create a firestorm out there.”The majority, in quite vivid terms, stated the public – Christian and Jewish – “would rain the wrath of God” on the company. Loetz, Martel, and Broderick hadn’t expected mutiny. Then, Slaughter jumped up. "Guys, it's fantastic. Best thing we've had. It’s time we had something controversial.”
“Okay, you answer the letters!” jibed an associate. “Hey, I’m from Georgia,” Slaughter snapped back. “Jesus is big news!”
“Southerners’ll think this is sacrilege?” a staffer opined. “This’ll offend everyone. We're crazy if we put it out! Decca is a prestige label."
"Yeah," Slaughter chimed in. "A prestige label that needs a blockbuster hit. We can’t live on Tommy forever!"
Martell chimed in, "There'll be controversy, but young people will go for it. They're the ones buying records. It could be a smash."
The radio promotion manager weighed in. “It clocked at over four minutes! That’s
a lifetime on pop stations – if they’ll even program it. Some are gonna be scared,
but if we finesse this the right way FM stations’ll jump on it. Underground’s the
way to go. Listeners are more hip, but we’re not gonna get big numbers.”
After the meeting, the executives remained. "Jack, I want it," said Martell. “It wasn’t all positive, but you can’t say they weren’t fired up.” "London’s ready to roll, enthused Broderick." Lutz advised, “It's not going to be easy. We're going to have a fight on our hands. Dick, get them to listen again. Let everyone absorb it. Can you get us a couple of days?” Broderick replied, “I know Brian will.”
After he departed, Loetz informed Martel that Adams was high on the prospects of the record; however, he confessed he wasn’t so sure. “We’ll be accused of being blasphemers and anti-Semitic. Are we prepared for that? The whole thing must be handled with extreme good taste. If the record bombs, I’m out the door.” Broderick also knew that because of his enthusiasm for the record and expected album he’d be next in line.
For the next few days, office doors were closed as the tune was played. Walsh and Slaughter made the rounds promoting their enthusiasm and playing it for anyone who'd listen.
The most astute executives know who help keep a company sailing smooth: the secretaries. Curiosity was rampant, and a row of them ran to listen whenever they could. The younger set were enthused; the older, not so much. Loetz’s secretary moaned that she could see hellfire blazing. Another had tears in her eyes when she heard the demo. "It's sad when a company like Decca has to make money by making fun of Jesus," she grieved.
By Monday, after consultations with Adams on the West Coast, Loetz gave the word, “Run with it!” None on staff were surprised when suddenly rumors floated that staid old Decca was putting out a sacrilegious record.
, Andrew Lloyd Webber, just turning 17 and soon to be on his way to a term at Oxford, met Tim Rice in 1965. Rice, 22, was writing pop lyrics and was told by Lloyd Webber’s agent he was in the market for a “with it” lyricist. On meeting Rice, whom he describes in his memoir Unmasked as “a six-foot-something, thin as a rake, blond bombshell of an adonis,” he imagined his goal was to be “a heartthrob rock star.”
Lloyd Webber was working on the score of a musical, but the author of the source material was slow coming up with a plotline. He became impressed with Rice’s “rhyming dexterity” and they eagerly joined forces. While Lloyd Webber was educating himself about the music business, Rice jumped at the opportunity of a position at EMI Records, then a music industry giant, getting his foot in the door of their A&R department, where he first met singer/songwriter Murray Head.
With The Likes of Us, as Lloyd Webber noted, “in the deep freeze,” the duo wrote pop songs, one of which was recorded. Other ideas for musicals floated and one, with a Biblical theme, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolored Dreamcoat, had a promising start in a 20-minute “cantata” [that gradually grew and grew to eventually became a hit stage show and recording].
What to do next?
Rice and Lloyd Webber considered a musical about President John F. Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis, which never went beyond discussions. Lloyd Webber recalled that in a conversation with a minister while at the Royal College a suggestion was floated that he write a musical on Christ's life. “Not the standard fare,” relayed Lloyd Webber, “but a composition that modern youth could identify with.” He reacted was laughter, stating, "What a terrible idea! It'll never sell." When the topic was broached with Rice, he wasn’t enthusiastic.
They musicalized the Richard the Lion-Hearted legend under the title Come Back, Richard, Your Country Needs You. It had one performance, but the only thing to come of it was the title song for a single on the RCA label.
In a meeting Rice had with Mike Leander, a record producer with the likes of the Beatles, Tom Jones, Marianne Faithful, and Donavan and now A&R head of MCA-UK. Leander, in an ironic happenstance if there ever was one, inquired whatever happened to the musical he and Lloyd Webber were working on, “the one that presented Jesus as a flesh-and- blood man.” Rice was flummoxed, as he had no recollection of mentioning it.
He raised the subject with Lloyd Webber, who thought with the passage of time and their lack of successful projects, “Maybe it’s not such a bad idea.” What might have been too controversial a couple of years ago, felt Rice, “might be more palatable now since people had become more liberal and more intelligent.” It also dawned on both a Biblical story had been their biggest success. Rice admitted they were entering uncharted, sensitive territory, and though they had no wish to offend any religion, controversial territory. The motivation for wanting to do a musical on Jesus's life, Lloyd Webber explained in an interview, "was that if one had had religion sort of rammed down one's throat when one was in school, it was inevitable that Jesus would be one of the first subjects one would choose for a project of this nature.”
They felt out others. Most thought it was a foolish idea. Undaunted, he said, “We didn't give up. It was a chance we decided to take.”
“We knew we had to be different to be interesting and exciting," explained Rice. The duo decided to set their story in the final days leading up to Jesus’ passion and crucifixion. "With my background, we considered rock; and, with Andrew’s knowledge of the classics, opera. Then we had this idea, 'Why not combine the two?' The Who had caused quite a stir by calling their Tommy a rock opera. That's how it all came about." “We had been well-coached in the mechanics of Christianity,” reported Rice. “It had been drummed into us at school. They treated Christ the legend, so we decided to treat the bloke as a man.”
“Superstar,” the duo’s first tune from their rock opera, was intended as a tirade for Judas. It was originally called “Judas’ Song.” Lloyd Webber came up with a simple three-chord structure, embellishing it with a chorus from a short-lived musical idea on King David.
Lloyd Webber discussed the project with Dean Martin Sullivan of St. Paul's Cathedral, who stated their approach “would be acceptable to any Christian who welcomed an honest challenge.” However, his support came with a warning: “It might ruffle some feathers and rekindle anti-Semitic feelings.” It was as if he had ESP.
The team is assembled to record Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s rock opera.End of Part One.
Harvey Schmidt of the composing team Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt died Wednesday at his longtime home in Tomball, TX. He was 88. The duo created the longest-running musical in history, The Fantasticks, which ran 42 years Off Broadway and was revived Off Broadway in July 2006 – June 2017; the Broadway musicals 110 in the Shade, I Do, I Do, and Celebration, and Off Broadway’s Road Side.
Jones and Schmidt were inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame in 1998. The composers have stars in the Lortel Theatre Off-Broadway Walk of Fame.
A memorial in New York is being planned.Remembering Harvey Schmidt – and Tom Jones, who recently turned 90:
The Fantasticks, the world's longest-running musical, is a show that all but the most hardened soul love. The story is schmaltzy - the ageless one about boy and girl fall in love/boy and girl fall out of love/boy and girl fall back in love. For over six decades Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt's musical enthralled millions across the U.S. and in over 80 countries. It is also one of the world's most-honored musicals, with awards upon awards including, on home turf, the Obie and, in a rare recognition of an Off Broadway show, a 1992 Special Tony Award.In its initial Off Broadway run, "the little musical that endured," as it came to be called, racked up a record-shattering 17,162 performances [May 1960 - January, 2002].Songs "Soon It's Gonna Rain," "They Were You," "I Can See It," and especially "Try to Remember" have become theater and pop standards now known to generations. All these years later, as Jones once put it: “They still have the magical ability to soar.”
Their cleverly-rhyming opening number sung by Jerry Orbach in The Fantasticks, “Try to Remember,” has been recorded by hundreds, including by Ed Ames, Harry Belafonte, Perry Como, Placido Domingo, Eddie Fisher, Kingston Trio, Gladys Knight, Liza Minnelli, Roy Orbinson, Patti Page, and Barbra Streisand, and, among many others, Andy Williams. Ironically, considering the legend that's grown up around the show, it almost didn't happen.
Flashback to August, 1959: Tom Jones, Harvey Schmidt and Charles Word Baker [1923 – 1995; who went on to become a Broadway stage manager, do some “doctoring” on 1982’s cult hit Pump Boys and Dinettes, and a veteran stage/TV director] met as students at the University of Texas, where Jones and Schmidt were at work on a "unique new entertainment" for its time.A professor introduced Jones to Edmond Rostand's 1890 play Les Romaneques, a story of two fathers - next door neighbors - who concoct a feud to fool their romance-obsessed son and daughter into falling in love. "It had a profound effect on me," he says, "but I didn't think of it as a source of a musical. In fact, I'd never seen a musical, except in the movies. We did hundreds of plays in college, but not one musical. It was later, in graduate school, when I met Harvey and Word, that I began to discover musical theater."On their move to New York, while writing special material for revues, the duo decided to write a "fun musical." "I don't remember who suggested the Rostand piece," says Jones, "but we all agreed. Then Harvey and I got drafted."When they returned to civilian life, the duo continued working on their show, which championed such new ideas as an open stage. After another three years, they were about to throw in the towel when Baker suggested trying it out in summer stock.The Fantasticks, as they titled it, a one-act blithe spirit of a musical about love in all its gorgeous simplicity and heartbreaking complexities, would be on a triple bill in New York in Barnard College's summer festival. Taking the plot a bit further, Jones added the fathers arranging a fake abduction of the girl, Luisa, so that the boy, Matt, can gallop heroically to her rescue. “Regarding the title, Jones notes, “The fathers refer to Luisa and Matt as being ‘fantastic.’ I added the ‘k' to make it sound more mysterious."Its early inception was written in verse. At Bernard, they operated “on a less-than-shoestring budget. Schmidt, an accomplished illustrator, designed and executed the costumes in bare bones fashion. “Still they had color and sparkle,” he boasted. The "orchestra" was Schmidt playing piano. In a stroke of later genius, he added a harpist to accompany the songs [for most later productions, that was the instrumentation]. It was Jones' job to get producers uptown to see the show. Rehearsals ran smoothly until the dress. Susan Watson, playing Luisa, was recovering from a fall from the ladder that was the show's only scenery – except for the strolling players’ trunk, and strained her vocal chords. She could hardly manage a whisper. The choreographer stepped in to Watson's dances, and Schmidt sang her songs. It was some performance."We didn't know what else could go wrong," exclaims Jones.In one of those rare show business stories that change lives forever, a fledging producer, Lore Noto, accepted the invite. “Afterward,” said Schmidt, “he told us that he thought the show would be perfect for the booming world of off-beat Off-Broadway.”"Like all producers," recalled Schmidt, "he had some suggestions. They were minor. One was that the show be expanded to two acts. We couldn't help but love Lore when he told us that he'd produce the show only if we had total creative control."Jones and Schmidt were so broke, they held auditions in their Upper West Side apartment. "We couldn't afford a casting director," remembers Jones. "Hopefuls were lined up out the door and down four flights of stairs. I don't remember how Jerry [Orbach] heard about the show, but he came and sang and read. He was sensational."Then and there, the composers and Baker decided he'd be the perfect El Gallo and they went to tell him; but Orbach, late for another audition, had left to grab the subway. Related Schmidt, "We ran down the stairs, past the other waiting actors and caught him at the corner." As fate would have it, Orbach scored at the next audition and was offered a role in a new Broadway show. "At five times the salary Lore could pay!" said Schmidt.But, later stating he just had “this gut feeling about the musical,” Orbach chose The Fantasticks. The show he was up for closed out of town. The other members of the original cast were: Thomas Bruce, actually, Jones, as Henry and George Curley as Mortimer – the “strolling players”; Rita Gardner [the short-lived 1963 Pal Joey revival, and a noted Broadway stand-by; later, The Wedding Singer] as Luisa; William Larsen as Hucklebee [the girl's father]; Kenneth Nelson [later of Boys in the Band fame] as Matt; Richard Stauffer as the Mute; and Hugh Thomas as Bellomy. Jay Hampton had the role of the Handyman, which was eventually dispensed with.The performance space at the 150-seat Sullivan Street Playhouse in Greenwich was
only a little larger than a throw rug. The bare-bones set consisted of a piano at center, multi-colored streamers, a wooden “wall,” a bench, the strolling players’ trunk, and a cardboard moon hung on a pole. From inception, Jones and Schmidt thought their creation would be the perfect show for what was shaping up to be a unique decade. Maybe they were a bit ahead of their time. “Way ahead of our time,” laughed Jones. “Our opening was punctuated not only by the snores of sleeping audience members, but also by such comments as “I don't understand it!' and ‘What the hell was that?' And then came the reviews!""They weren't money notices," exclaimed Schmidt.Jones says they weren't that bad. For the most part, they were. So much so, that he spent the better part of the wee hours with an escape to Central Park, drinking heavily and throwing up. Then, as now, hopes were high for an excellent notice from the all- important Times reviewer; then the much-respected Brooks Atkinson, known to love innovative theater. He wrote: "Two acts are one too many to sustain the delightful tone of the first. [It's] the sort of thing that loses magic the longer it endures."The days after the opening were rocky. The Fantasticks appeared doomed.However, even critics puzzled by the musical praised the cast and Baker's staging. “We were up and running,” tendered Schmidt, “but it was far from ‘Hurrah.’ We couldn’t even fill 150 seats. We bled for nine weeks. It was a miracle Lore didn’t close the show." Claims Jones, "It was amazing that we had a second night, much less that we were able to run that first week with hardly any audience. What had we done wrong? What had we done right? Of the handful of people involved, no two of us remember it quite the same. That goes for Harvey and I, and we were there; and have been answering questions about it for over fifty years."Even at then-Off Broadway prices of $2.95, $3.95 and $4.95, Gardner says, "audiences were sparse. Sometimes we played to ten and twenty people. It got so bad that Lore suspended performances and took the show to East Hampton. We generated enough word of mouth there to assure some kind of life back on Sullivan Street."Thanks to excellent outer critics' reviews and word-of-mouth from the hipsters who
loved the show and, most importantly, the gradual exposure songs from the show received on TV, The Fantasticks went on to have quite a life. Indeed, by its third year it was an established hit, with avid fans returning again and again. It remained a must-see for years, was declared “a sleeper success” by Time, and proved very popular during the height of the Asian tourist invasion. Noto's 50 original investors received a 35% return on their $16,500 total investment. One investor only put in cash because he was guilt-ridden for sleeping through the dress rehearsal. A profitable snooze. Schmidt was later to say part of the show’s success was due to "the story being universal. It radiates a timeless sweetness and sunniness."As a result of his fantastic reviews, Orbach was Broadway-bound in 1961 as the lead in David Merrick's production of Bob Merrill and Michael Stewart’s Carnival, directed and choreographed by Gower Champion.
In 1986, The Fantasticks almost closed when Noto became ill. "When the closing notice was placed in the Times," reported Schmidt, "there were protests. Calls and letters poured in from around the world. We were saved when Lore's friend Don Thompson stepped in to take over until he recovered. Within a week, performances were sold out.”In addition to setting a world record in New York, The Fantasticks gave performances at the White House. According to Jones, the show was been seen by ten presidents. It also established record runs in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Denver, and many other cities. It played London and was translated into over 20 languages. Four years after closing, Jones directed the 2006 revival [and often stepped into the cast, again, as Henry]. It starred Santino Fontana, Sara Jean Ford, and, as El Gallo, Burke Moses. “Except for a bit of political correctness to address some controversy over the usage of the word ‘rape,’” states Jones, “not much attempt was made to change the show. It was pretty much as it was when running Off Broadway for 42 years. The songs still had the magical ability to soar.”
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