* Both shows to close end March after short runs
* Public wants Rice, Lloyd Webber to collaborate -critic
* Producer thinks "Stephen Ward" will have a future
By Michael Roddy
LONDON, Feb 26 (Reuters) - Two of the biggest names in British musicals, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, will close their latest shows early at the end of March, in a blow to the former partners' efforts to succeed separately in London's West End.
Lyricist Rice and composer Lloyd Webber, who collaborated on such hits as "Evita", "Jesus Christ Superstar" and "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat", have suffered mixed reviews for their latest productions.
Lloyd Webber's "Stephen Ward", which takes its name from an osteopath who was a central figure in the Profumo sex scandal in Britain in the 1960s, has been playing to half-full houses for the last month according to some reports.
It will close on March 29 after a run of just four months, a statement released by its producer said on Wednesday. On the same day, Rice's "From Here to Eternity", based on the 1951 James Jones novel about life at a Hawaiian army base in the run-up to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941, will also shut, after five months.
"I think the West End is giving a very clear message, a rather vulgar, cynical sort of money-grubbing message, to Tim Rice and to Lloyd Webber that it's time these two singles got together again," Sunday Telegraph theatre critic Tim Walker told Reuters.
"They've both fallen foul of the Ides of March and it is really theatreland I think saying, 'Look, you're perfect as a pair, you work well as a couple but we're not that bothered about you in a lot of your single ventures'".
Since their early success the two have mostly gone their separate ways. They did collaborate on a production of "The Wizard of Oz" in 2011, but Rice later said their collaboration was over.
He has had separate West End success with productions such as "Chess" and "The Lion King", while Lloyd Webber scored a hit with "The Phantom of the Opera", though other productions have not done as well.
In December, Lloyd Webber told the Telegraph: "I haven't had a hit in 20 years."
Following newspaper reports this week that his show would close, Rice posted on his Twitter feed: "Intend to record FH2E cast album before Shaftesbury exit," referring to the Shaftesbury Theatre where his play is running. "Thanks to many for ever-increasing kind words and encouragement. Fight the Fight."
Lloyd Webber did make any immediate public comment but the show's producer, Robert Fox, in a statement said:
"I am very proud of the show and our wonderful company. Andrew has never been afraid to embrace difficult and challenging subject matters and Ward's strong and compelling story highlights a serious miscarriage of justice. ...
"The strong critical reviews commend what I think is possibly Andrew's best score in years ... I am very sad to see the show close in London but firmly believe this piece will be seen by many audiences in the future."
Some reviews were acerbic. The Financial Times said of "Stephen Ward" when it opened that it had huge potential "yet the show proves a strangely tepid affair".
The Guardian said of "From Here to Eternity" that until its final 10 minutes, evoking the raid on Pearl Harbour, "the overriding sense is of a musical based on skilled professionalism rather than expressive need".
Walker predicted that the theatre-going public had probably not heard the last from either Rice or Lloyd Webber.
"I'd be surprised if he (Lloyd Webber) sat back. Also, you don't really want to end a career any more than Tim Rice would want to end his career on a low note like this.
"I think there must be a determination to come back and do something extraordinary and amazing." (Editing by Susan Fenton)