After one particularly painful rehearsal, a frustrated Don turned to Elmer Bernstein: 'You know, we've got to get that boy a bottle of Jack Daniel's, make him drink it and get something out of him!'
Popular American magician Doug Henning a mysterious illusionist seemed the logical star for a musical about Merlin. Teaming up with Elmer Bernstein and Colombo writers Richard Levinson and William Link, they had a dramatic subject with vast appeal… There was only one problem. ‘Doug Hennings’, sighs Don, ‘was an amazing magician, but he couldn’t sing, dance or act. He was a triple threat.’ The show ran for just 10 months.
'Don has a fine dramatic sense,' says Barry. 'My music is theatrical. I love responding to a script. Someone shows me Out of Africa and i can't wait to react to it in my music. Don has that same instinct. It's more difficult than you think to stop movie songs sounding corny, but he manages it.'
Don collaborated once more with John Barry on the 1985 Academy Award winning Out Of Africa starring Robert Redford and Meryl Streep. Barry confessed ‘I do have a dark side, that’s part of being a musical dramatist. I have fed that darkness into scores like The Lion In Winter, Dances With Wolves and Out Of Africa. All those stories have darkness in them. Don balances that in me, which is why we’re such a good team’.
Michael ball and Ann Crumb on stage during a performance.
‘Love Changes Everything’ was to be the making of Michael Ball, and Aspects Of Love’s hit song. Don had delivered the chart hit that Andrew Lloyd Webber so wanted.
The song took Michael Ball to No.2 in the British charts (rather cruelly, it twice touched No.1, but midweek, so it did not show on the weekly chart update), and made him not only a household name, but one of British musical theatre’s few genuinely bankable stars alongside Michael Crawford and Elaine Page.
Lyrics Don wrote for Barry's famous themes from Out of Africa (the song is called 'Places') and Dances With Wolves ('Here's To The Heroes') have been successful in Europe (going gold in Germany, sung by the tenor Erkan Aki), and there are plans for American and British releases as well.
The original score and songs for Academy Award and Golden Globe winning film Dances with Wolves were composed and conducted by John Barry with lyrics written by Don. Don says it’s unsurprising that Barry is given to overwhelming mood swings. ‘Who knows where that music comes from? You wonder how a guy like this can write Dances With Wolves. What does he know about frontier life in the Wild West? The guy comes from York, for heaven’s sake. The answer has to be that there’s a great depth of emotion in him.’
Starlight was amongst other things a parody of musical styles, so it was imperative those styles be recognisable to the audience. And, after eight years, it’s composer felt it was losing touch. So he ordered a revamp, and drafted in Black to write a central love song. He came up with ‘Next Time You Fall In Love’.
When Don took his 5-year-old cousin Ellen to the show, she declared that her favourite character was Pearl. ‘Why?’ he asked. ‘Because she’s really in love,’ she insisted with a knowledgeable pout. ‘How do you know?’ She looked at Don like he was crazy. ‘Because she sang that song with Rusty, and it’s obvious’.
For Sunset, Lloyd Webber paired Black with the theatre and film writer Christopher Hampton. Coincidentally, Hampton had long thought the film would make a good musical, and had approached Paramount Studios for the rights, only to discover that someone else was already negotiating for them. That someone was Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Don’s next full musical with Andrew Lloyd Webber was as big as they come, in terms of cost, size and pressure. Don was about to tackle a legend, one of Hollywood’s most famous – Sunset Boulevard.
While some might have thought it a daunting task to musicalise one of Hollywood’s most famous films, Black – ever the optimist – was far from cowed. ‘I didn’t look at the negatives,’ he says. ‘I was hooked as soon as Andrew played me the tunes. He was at the piano, playing and saying, “And this is where she comes down the staircase.” And these incredible melodies were pouring out. I think it’s his best score. Heaven.’