Sir Cliff Richard falls out with producers of planned Archbishop of Canterbury musical.

PLANS FOR a West End musical based on the poems of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowen Williams, have been thrown into disarray, according to the latest issue of the Church Of England newspaper. They report that leading theatre bosses are meeting with Sir Cliff Richard, who was writing the musical but is now believed to have withdrawn from the project. The popularity of the Archbishop's conversations with Philip Pullman at the National Theatre, and Mike Read's success in putting the poems of Sir John Betjeman to music inspired his friend Sir Cliff to do the same. He had composed a mythical love story around the poems of the Archbishop of Canterbury, but now it seems unlikely that his work will ever see the light of day after numerous disputes with producers have thrown the plans into chaos.

The first run-in came when they demanded the story be re-written to focus on the story of the Archbishop himself. Dr Rowan Williams is said to have been concerned at the raunchy nature of some scenes in the original proposal, but reluctant to have the musical focussing on him. Producers persuaded Sir Cliff and Archbishop Williams that a narrative that included aspects of his humble roots, life in the valleys, the glittering spires of Oxbridge, Druids and finally becoming the leader of Anglicanism would all be more appealing to theatre-goers. Sir Cliff reluctantly agreed to these changes and even proposed growing his beard so that he could take the lead role in the musical, which was given the working title of Rowan - The Welsh Wizard. A source close to the producers said that that was never going to happen. "The West End depends on American tourists and Sir Cliff is not known well enough over there. We need a face that will draw the crowds." He added that American backers of the project thought that it would be a bigger hit if it became an ecclesiastical version of My Fair Lady. Dame Judi Dench was suggested as a name who is popular with Americans after her Oscar successes and is an established face on the West End.

Friends of Sir Cliff say that he was very angry about the change in the lead and the new title, Catherine Of Canterbury. He pointed out that the Church Of England doesn't have women bishops, let alone a female Archbishop of Canterbury. The producers responded by rewriting the entire story, setting it in America and rewriting the lyrics, so that they were only "inspired" by the Archbishop's poems. Sir Cliff is said to have flown into a rage at the destruction of his finely-worded script and angered by what he saw as an attempt to avoid paying royalties on the lyrics. A source close to the production company said that they were considering approaching Sir Elton John or Phil Collins to write the music, and were hoping that the Archbishop might still agree to a small cameo role. CR

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