Legendary Lyricist Tim Rice Readies From Here to Eternity for the Big Screen

Rice’s stage musical adaptation of the novel and film hits cinemas this month.

Tim Rice is the coauthor of the new musical From Here to Eternity.
Tim Rice is the coauthor of the new musical From Here to Eternity.
(© David Gordon)

Even legends aren't immune to disappointment. Such is the case with Tim Rice, the lyricist of classic musicals like Evita and Jesus Christ Superstar, and the co-songwriter behind stage and screen favorites The Lion King and Aladdin. Rice's musical From Here to Eternity, written with Stuart Brayson and Bill Oakes, played a six-month run on the West End earlier this year and was considered, in his own words, "a commercial flop." Still, that has not dimmed his hopes that the Pearl Harbor-era show, inspired by James Jones' novel and the subsequent film, will find life elsewhere. In fact, prior to a Broadway bow, which he hopes is still in the cards, they will test the waters with American cinema broadcasts on October 2, 5, and 9. In the days leading up to the screenings, Rice shared his thoughts on the filming of stage shows and the changing nature of the theater industry.

How did your involvement in a musical version of From Here to Eternity come about?
It was brought to me by the composer, Stuart Brayson. It was really his idea and it's been in gestation for about ten years. I knew the story from the film and the book. I'd known Stuart's work for a long time, though he's not well-known in musical circles yet, and I thought this is something that really could happen for him. I got involved, first as a producer, and then ended up doing all the words for him. He had done quite a few lyrics himself, which were very good, but gradually, when we had to write some new songs, I slowly but surely took over all of the word writing.

What did you learn from the experience putting up From Here to Eternity on the West End and having it close after six months?
First, I learned that nobody knows how to have a hit. Second, I learned that it's probably slightly harder these days to get a brand-new score off the ground unless you have some back story to it — most of the shows that are hits, they've either got a familiar catalog of songs, or they're a version of a recently successful film. It's still got to be good, but if people already know the story and the songs, that's a big plus…It wasn't a score that was known and the film was a long time ago. I think we should have probably opened out of town and given ourselves a little more time to get the message and the songs over. Way, way back with Jesus Christ Superstar, we had the album out a whole year before.

Was a cinema broadcast in the cards from the start?
That was a bonus surprise, really. Basically, its root was that we were trying — and still are — to get it staged around the world and to get the message out that this is an interesting new musical by a great new composer. The filming of the show was an unexpected bonus for us because it was a commercial failure even though it got some nice reviews.
As it happens, I think it's a very good calling card for us to see if we can get a version going in America, where I think the piece will have more resonance.

You've had a number of your shows filmed for posterity, long before the U.K. trend of cinema theatrical broadcasts kicked off. How do you feel about that movement?
I'm very flattered that several shows I've done over the years [attracted] somebody to put them onto film or DVD. It's nice, because obviously live theater is something which, by its very nature, disappears as soon as it's over…It seems fairly obvious that it should be done. No one's doing it to make a fortune; they're just doing it to have something for the record.

In the past few years, we've seen Broadway revivals of your shows Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita. Are there any others you'd like to see on Broadway?
Probably one of the really obscure ones that never worked. I did a show called Blondel years ago that would be great. In fact, we're rerecording it at the moment. We've beat it up with a couple of new songs…We just want to see if we can get it going in schools. There's always a shortage of great material for kids to do and I think this one could be quite funny.

Given Broadway's tendency to cast major stars, who would you cast in From Here to Eternity?
Justin Timberlake and Anne Hathaway would be a good start, but they're probably busy.

A moment from the West End production of From Here to Eternity at the Shaftsbury Theatre.
A moment from the West End production of From Here to Eternity at the Shaftsbury Theatre.
(© Johan Persson)