A Year After Cy Coleman's Death, His New Musical — Elaine's Domain — Emerges in NYC Reading

News   A Year After Cy Coleman's Death, His New Musical — Elaine's Domain — Emerges in NYC Reading On the one-year anniversary of the death of Tony Award winning composer Cy Coleman, friends and colleagues gathered in his Manhattan studio to explore and rehearse one of the last shows he was working on — Elaine's Domain, about restaurateur Elaine Kaufman.
Cy Coleman
Cy Coleman Photo by Aubrey Reuben

"It's a terrible day, because we have to go back to his studio this afternoon," the show's librettist A.E. Hotchner told Playbill.com on the morning of Nov. 18. "That's not something I look forward to, but I think somehow I've got to…accept the fact that he's not here anymore. It's very difficult. I still feel he's still around."

Coleman, who penned cabaret standards such as "Witchcraft" and "The Best Is Yet to Come," and show tunes for Sweet Charity, Barnum and City of Angels, died of a heart attack Nov. 18, 2004, after attending the opening of the Broadway play Democracy. The fact that a rehearsal for the new project fell exactly a year to the day of his death was pure coincidence, Hotchner said. The reading starring Lainie Kazan is planned for Nov. 21.

Coleman, 75, was known for juggling a number of projects at once, and Elaine's, aka Elaine's Domain — one of several shows in different stages of development — had a libretto and songlist complete at the time of his passing. Except for one new number with lyrics by "Hotch" and music by Coleman, the score is made up of trunk songs that Coleman wrote with lyricists Dorothy Fields and Carolyn Leigh.

"The day he died, that afternoon before, he had called me all excited because he found a song he did with Dorothy Fields that fit very well into a place in the book," Hotchner said. "He sang it to me on the phone. That night, he died."

Tony Award nominee Lainie Kazan (My Favorite Year) will play Elaine in the Nov. 21 private Manhattan reading of the two-actor show, which is for friends and industry people. (Coleman fans know Kazan starred in the pre-Broadway run of Seesaw.) No director is yet attached to the "new" project and no productions are yet planned. Mary-Mitchell Campbell, one of Coleman's favorite musical directors, will be on piano for the reading. The show's roots are in Hotchner's 2004 non-fiction book, "Everyone Comes to Elaine's," about Kaufman and her celebrity-filled Upper East Side eatery. The musical is set in the bar of the 88th Street restaurant, and (at this point in the show's development) one actor (John Paul Almon) will play 12 different men in Elaine's life.

Who had the idea for the musical?

"After the book was done, Elaine said, 'Now what?'" Hotchner said. "I said, 'What are you talking about? A Vanity Fair article, now a book!' She said, 'I think it should be on the stage.' It was her suggestion. She's voracious. I'm sure when this is through she'll say, 'What about a movie?' There's no stopping her. Then, of course, we could do an opera. How about a television series…?"

Hotchner, who had worked with old pal Coleman on Broadway's Welcome to the Club and its subsequent rewrite, Lawyers, Lovers and Lunatics, wrote a draft of a stage script for Elaine's.

"It was too literary, it was pretty much based on the book," Hotch said. "But [Cy] said, 'You know you could add some music to this for her interior thinking.' He said, 'I've got two women who wrote the greatest lyrics, and they are carbon copies of Elaine — Dorothy Fields and Carolyn Leigh.' He said, 'These are my songs over 40 years and she's had the restaurant over 40 years. You oughta hear these songs, they've never been a show and I'm very fond of them.' So we went over a lot of songs."

Leigh and Fields, who both predeceased Coleman, were known for their frisky comic language, plaintive poetic lyrics and their often sexy turns of phrase. Coleman and Fields wrote "The Best Is Yet to Come," "Witchcraft" and a host of other pop standards, as well as the musicals Wildcat and Little Me. Coleman and Fields penned the scores to Sweet Charity and Seesaw, as well as a musical about Eleanor Roosevelt that was never produced.

"It Amazes Me," a well-known standalone pop song by Coleman and Leigh, finds a home in Elaine's.

One of the songs from Eleanor, "Patch, Patch, Patch," is being borrowed for Elaine's. Hotchner shared the Fields lyric:

After 50, it's patch, patch, patch
Each day there's some repair job you must do
A small crick here
A small twinge there
The rising gorge
The falling hair
So you stock up on adhesive tape and glue

After 50, it's patch, patch, patch
You curse those awful stairs you have to climb
A small puff here
A small grunt there
The aching back
The bones that crack
Plus the aspirin you're taking all the time

"It's a very funny song," Hotchner said. "And that's what happened to Elaine. When she got around middle age, she decided she wanted to be beautiful. People forget that she went to a weight loss clinic and lost 200 pounds."

The new work is not strict biography. Hotchner explained, "It's my celebration of Elaine. I've taken stuff from the book, but I've dramatized it. I've obviously exaggerated some things, taken license with some things. It's really a tribute to her, in dramatic terms."

The casting of Lainie Kazan was Elaine Kaufman's idea.

Hotchner said, "I took Lainie to dinner there, and sitting between the two of them is like being in between two bookends. They're really very similar."