Peter Howard, Broadway Music Director, Dies at 80

Obituaries   Peter Howard, Broadway Music Director, Dies at 80 Peter Howard, who worked on many Broadway shows in numerous capacities, but most commonly as either music director or dance arranger, died on April 18. He lived at the Actors Fund Home in Englewood, NJ.
Peter Howard
Peter Howard

Born Howard Weiss July 29, 1927, in Florida, he attended Julliard. His first Broadway show was a forgotten revue called All Is Love in 1956, for which he wrote a ballet. The more successful My Fair Lady followed, in which he assisted the production's musical director, Franz Allers. He took on similar duties on Oh, Captain! in 1958, assisting Jay Blackton. He was an on-stage pianist on Say, Darling, which led to a job as pianist on A Party with Betty Comden and Adolph Green; did dance arrangements for Carnival; and was assistant conductor on the original The Sound of Music..

By the late '60s and early '70s, Mr. Howard had graduated to more prominent positions. He did dance and incidental music arrangements on the original Hello, Dolly! (for which he also served as conductor), was musical director and did dance arrangements on 1776 and did dance arrangements for the original productions of Chicago and Annie. During the 1980s, he was musical director on Barnum, Harrigan 'n' Hart, Baby and Stepping Out. For the 1992 retro-musical hit Crazy for You, he provided dance and incidental music arrangements.

When Mr. Howard worked on a show, he tended to stick with it. He worked on two Broadway revivals of Hello, Dolly!, the 1997 revival of 1776 and the 1996 revival of Chicago, repeating the same tasks he had on the originals. He also worked on the movie versions of 1776, Annie and Stepping Out.

In later years, Mr. Howard toured with a show called Peter Howard's Broadway. The show was recorded, and, in a review of the album, Playbill.com columnist Steven Suskin tried to encapsulate Mr. Howard's amorphous profession. "What does a dance arranger do, you might ask? Arrange the dances, I suppose is the short answer. Howard tells us, on Peter Howard's Broadway, how the choreographer of one of his musicals asked for a ragtime-sort-of-dance for his two star ladies. Howard discusses — or rather, demonstrates — how he took the kernel of the melody of one of the songs in the show, "Funny Honey," and wove it into the "Hot Honey Rag," a highpoint for Gwen Verdon and Chita Rivera in Bob Fosse's Chicago. "Howard did not compose 'Hot Honey Rag,' mind you; rather, he 'ragged' John Kander's clearly identifiable melody. The two pieces are similar enough so that anyone familiar with the song will recognize the origin of the rag — but anyone who first heard the rag might well be enchanted and totally satisfied without ever hearing the Kander and Ebb original. (Kander, who early on served as a dance arranger himself, could have surely come up with his own creation for this spot. But composers rarely have the time or inclination to sit for hours providing variations-to-order for choreographers. And, in the case of Chicago, I believe that by this point relations between Fosse and his songwriters were past the crisis stage.)" His final Broadway credit was the dance arrangements for Minnelli on Minnelli in 1999.

Peter Howard
Peter Howard Photo by Martha Swope