… In fact it was one of four. After I completed Evita in 1976 with Tim Rice I wrote a purely musical piece, Variations, for my cellist brother Julian. It intrigued me to compose without the theatre in mind. Before that I had tried my hand at a score for comedy with disastrous effect. My collaborator was Alan Ayckbourn and the resulting Jeeves taught me the hard way more about musical theatre than anything else I had experienced thereto. But it had an unexpected result. It was Hal Prince’s encouraging words about this debacle that led to our collaboration on Evita and to the re-emergence of Jeeves as By Jeeves two decades later.
I had also started doodling music to T. S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. I wanted to see if I could set existing verse. My collaborations with Tim Rice had usually seen the music come first.
My Tell Me experiment was about two things. First I wanted to see if I could write a small piece rather than tackle the huge scale subjects of my last two collaborations with Tim Rice. The adventures of a 27-year-old English girl from Muswell Hill seemed a perfect antidote to Jesus Christ and an Argentine Dictator’s wife. Secondly it was the first time I had worked professionally with a lyricist other than Tim. My collaboration with Don Black was different in many ways. For openers it did not revolve around the cricket season.
Tell Me was recorded and performed on a BBC TV special by Marti Webb, our Evita alternate, and along with Variations was successful enough for Cameron Mackintosh to combine them under a title of his invention, Song and Dance. Originally this was billed as a “concert for the theatre”. It largely defied the rule that double bills don’t work. Song & Dance had a three-year run in London as well as having a season on Broadway with Bernadette Peters as our 27-year-old English girl.
After Tell Me was issued on record, Don and I received several offers to expand it, including three film offers which resulted in full-blown screenplays being written. One offer had a famous movie Director attached. Neither of us was happy with these screenplays. Other characters were introduced who it was proposed would sing. So we said no. Also, I can reveal over 20 years later, there was a proposal to turn the piece into a one-woman vehicle for Shirley Maclaine with whom particularly Don spent a lot of time. But again this ultimately led to nothing.
At the end of 2001 two events happened by complete coincidence. Denise Van Outen sang Take That Look Off Your Face at the Royal Variety Show. I met her afterwards and we got talking about her musical theatre aspirations. This led to a discussion about re-visiting Tell Me. Three days later I got a call out of the blue from Matthew Warchus. He asked me if I would be interested in him directing a new version of Tell Me.
Here was one of those opportunities to put two and two together. I contacted Don, who was intrigued. The consequence was that Denise, Don and I have re-shaped and expanded Tell Me. There are five completely new songs and several of the original have been extensively re-worked.
We tried the new Tell Me at the Sydmonton Festival last year and were encouraged enough to offer our efforts to you today.
Andrew Lloyd Webber, from the 2003 show programme.
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