Blondel, a rock opera musical by Tim Rice (book and lyrics) and Stephen Oliver (music), was inspired by, and very loosely based on, the life of the eponymous French troubadour. The play is set during the period of the Third Crusade.
Originally conceived by Tim Rice during his collaboration with Andrew Lloyd Webber, the project was originally titled "Come Back Richard Your Country Needs You" and a single of the same title was recorded in 1969. The project was shelved until Rice met Stephen Oliver in the 1970s. The pair began working on a musical centering around King Richard I of England and as it developed, the project shifted its focus to a minstrel in the King's court vying for pop-stardom and his "progressive" girlfriend.
Though the musical is largely a comic romp, it does tackle some pretty serious issues. Historically, Blondel lays out the basic goings-on of the Third Crusade as told through the eyes of the English political environment. Although the musical frequently mentions the Crusade, it is never actually shown, excepting Richard's imprisonment in Austria upon his return trip. The play also deals with one of the many assassination attempts made on Richard and an attempt by John to the steal the throne of England from his brother. As the Monks say at the end of Act One "Who said this piece wasn't educational". The main vehicle for social commentary throughout the show is the relationship between Fiona and Prince John, Fiona as an activist campaigning for the rights and freedoms of the 20th century and John as a man of power who can't figure out why anyone could possibly be dissatisfied with the monarchy.
Blondel opened in London on November 2, 1983 and played in two different theatres on the West End. The show closed after less than two years. Although many productions have been staged world-wide, Blondel has never appeared on the Broadway stage.
Come back with us to the middle ages
The opening words of the musical (above) as sung by a group of Monks explain the situation. ("Monks' Introduction") Blondel is an unappreciated musician trying to make his big break by writing a song for the King, Richard the Lionheart. Fiona, his girlfriend, feels that it's a waste of time to write for the King as the monarchy can't possibly be around for much longer. Even though she does enjoy the tune, she suggests he get a real job to help support her. Blondel explains that he can't. He says that he "nearly hit big with 'Send in the Jester'" and feels a breakthrough coming and to give up now would be impossible. Fiona leaves Blondel and decides to take her well-being into her own hands. ("Blondel and Fiona/I'm a Monarchist")
The Monks open the Ministry of Feudal Affairs ("incorporating the Departments of Unemployment, the Environment, Social Security, and Gratuitous Executions"), which is "presided over by HRH Prince John" at which Fiona promptly shows to ask for her freedom. Unwilling and unable to pay the fee, Fiona is first denied her request by Prince John and later denied it by the King who explains that "running this joint's not as cheap as it looks". Fiona is swept aside in order for the King to announce that he will be embarking on the Crusade and that John will be in charge while the King is away. Fiona is enraged by this notion as it will expend more money to go on the Crusade than it would to grant her freedom and she leaves the court. ("The Ministry of Feudal Affairs") Fiona and Blondel soon find themselves together again. He manages to convince her that his song for the King will grant them all their wishes and she agrees to help him. ("The Least of My Troubles")
"Thus reunited, what a touching scene" the Monks proclaim as Fiona and Blondel set off to meet the King at Dover before he embarks on his journey. Once there Blondel is unable to present his song to Richard as the King is anxious to leave and doesn't have time for such things. Richard suggests Blondel should take it up with John instead and the Crusaders leave for the Holy Land. ("Lionheart") Back at the Ministry of Feudal Affairs, Blondel and Fiona present the song to John who promptly throws the song away and proclaims that all songs should from now on be dedicated to him and not Richard. ("No Rhyme for Richard") John then tasks Blondel to write a song about him but Blondel refuses, saying it's an important job but that his heart's just not in it. Fiona is outraged by Blondel's refusal of work saying that this is the break he's been waiting for. As Blondel lists his reasons for not wanting to write a song dedicated to his Prince, both John and Fiona grow increasingly angered. The scene culminates in John banishing Blondel to the Continent and declaring "snub a prince but realize you've sunk a singing career". ("Trio")
Promptly realizing he's made a mistake by sending Blondel after Richard, John's mood becomes depressed. A mysterious man appears by John's side and offers to take care of the problem for him, for a price, but misidentifies the target as Blondel and can't identify the real target, the King, at all. Once all is set straight, the Assassin sets off on Richard's trail. ("Assassin's Song") The act closes with Fiona, realizing that Blondel doesn't love her as much as he loves his music and that she'll never get the kind of social change she wants. Even through her realizations, Fiona decides to chase after Blondel, unsure of what she's actually looking for. ("Running Back for More")
Act Two opens on the Continent, Blondel in hot pursuit of King Richard. Blondel journeys though France, Spain, and Italy wowing crowds of natives with his music and searching high and low for his King ("Have you seen my King?" "NO!") but to no avail. As the trek continues, Blondel begins to lose hope that he'll ever find Richard. Meanwhile, the Assassin chases after Blondel, his patience with the troubadour's music thinning. At the point of giving up on the chase, Blondel runs into Fiona who tells him that Richard is being held prisoner in Austria by Duke Leopold and the pair take off to find the King together. ("Blondel in Europe")
While sitting in prison, Richard laments about his situation and longs for the days of the Crusade when he was free to do as he pleased. Back in London, John, pleased with his own cleverness and handiwork, prepares himself for becoming King of England. ("Saladin Days/I Can't Wait to be King") Arriving in Salzburg, the pursuers come to rest in an inn just before completing the last leg of the journey to the King's cell. The Assassin admits that he's becoming extremely discouraged by the whole situation and that the "job is killing me". Blondel on the other hand has a renewed sense of ambition and refuses to give up declaring that the King will soon be found. Fiona suggests that lingering would not behoove anyone at this point and they should press on before time has run out though she is still unsure whether or not she really wants to help. The Assassin decides that he'd "rather murder Prince John" but will soldier on while John announces that Richard has died on his Crusade and that he will be assuming the throne of England. ("The Inn at Salzburg/Blondel's Search")
Having found the King in his prison, Fiona decides to speak with the Duke of Austria about letting Richard go and the Assassin nears his victim, poised for the murder. The Duke writes a letter to John, blackmailing him with for a million crowns. Fiona sweet-talks and flatters the Duke in order to get him to release Richard, which the Duke agrees to. ("The Duke of Austria's Quarter") Ready to give up the search, Blondel, quite by accident, runs into Richard. With Richard now released, the Duke's English visitors make their way out of the castle but just as they're about to walk out the door, the Duke has a sudden change of heart and decides that he's not going to let them go after all. The Duke will only let Blondel and Richard go if Fiona will stay with him in Austria. Unwilling to stay with Leopold, Fiona tricks him into walking outside toward someone she says is better-suited for him at which point the Assassin, seeing the crown on the Duke's head, attacks, killing him. Richard, Blondel, and Fiona declare it to be "a most important day" and decide it's time to go back to England. However, before they leave, Fiona demands a pardon and her freedom from the King in exchange for keeping her mouth shut about the monarchy to which the King agrees reluctantly. Meanwhile, the Assassin, having killed the wrong man, laments about his "first failure" and wonders if he can make a comeback. However he goes on to discover that he didn't even really kill the Duke ("Leopold is a-okay") and the two men find comfort in the other's mistakes. ("The Cell")
Blondel, Fiona, and Richard make their way back to England where John is preceding with his plans to become King. Having declared Richard dead, John impatiently awaits his coronation. At the moment before the crown is placed on John's head, Richard bursts through the doors and puts a swift end to the illegal ceremony. ("Westminster Abbey") Having stopped his brother's coronation, Richard declares Blondel the "country's foremost composer" and at last allows him to perform his song. With the help of the Blondettes, Blondel becomes the pop sensation he'd been waiting to become. ("I'm a Monarchist (Reprise)") Having been absolved their indiscretions and declared friends and heores of the monarchy, Blondel and Fiona renew their relationship and declare their love for each other. ("Running Back for More (Reprise)")
The London Stage
Blondel opened in Bath on September 12, 1983 and soon moved to Manchester where it stayed for two weeks before moving to the newly-refurbished Old Vic on November 2. The show remained at the Old Vic for eleven months before moving to the Aldwych on London's West End. Because of high production costs and decreasing revenues, Blondel closed in the Aldwych after only eight months.
Blondel in America
The first production of Blondel in the US was staged at the University of Texas in El Paso by the Union Dinner Theatre. It opened on April 11, 1985. Blondel was again produced in the United States by a high school in Long Island, NY in early 1986. Both productions were attended by Tim Rice. Since the mid-1980s, Blondel has been produced by theatres and amateur groups all around the world but has yet to take its rightful place on the Broadway stage.
Note: Several Numbers are actually combinations of shorter songs that fit cohesively into one larger "super-number" and are sometimes broken down and titled as such. These numbers are indicated and the alternate titles given.