The Sept. 21 New York City unveiling and dedication of six Broadway songwriter U.S. postage stamps was alive with the sound of music, sung by the likes of Barbara Cook, Kristin Chenoweth, Faith Prince, Roger Bart and Tom Wopat.
Rain did not deter family and friends of the nine honorees -- Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, Lorenz Hart, Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, George and Ira Gershwin, Frank Loesser and Meredith Willson -- from attending the celebration at the Broadhurst Theatre. Musical theatre fans and philatelists were also in attendance to hear words from Kitty Carlisle Hart, who knew all of the songwriters except Lorenz Hart, who was no relation to Carlisle's husband, Moss Hart.
Among family and friends in attendance were Rosemary Willson (Meredith Willson's widow), William Hammerstein (Oscar Hammerstein's son), Mary Rodgers (Richard Rodgers' daughter), Jo Sullivan Loesser (Frank Loesser's widow), Marc Gershwin, Leopold Godowsky III and Michael Strunsky (of the Gershwin family), Liz Robertson (Lerner's widow) and Dorothy Hart and Lorenz Hart II, and others.
Gerald Schoenfeld, chairman of the Shubert Organization, and John Wargo of the U.S. Postal Services also spoke.
The event resembled a well-produced cabaret act, with Alex Rybeck and Wally Harper at the piano and performers standing among large, color reproductions of the 33-cent stamps that are available in New York City Tuesday and around the country Sept. 22. Performers included Wopat (of Annie Get Your Gun, who hosted), Brent Barrett (Chicago), Bart (late of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown), Ann Hampton Callaway (Swing!), Chenoweth (Epic Proportions), Cook (the original The Music Man), Bashirrah Creswell (The Lion King), Christopher Fitzgerald and Jessica Stone (featured earlier this year in the Encores! concert of Rodgers and Hart's Babes in Arms), Rebecca Luker (The Sound of Music), Howard McGillin (the current Phantom of the Opera), Prince (whose club act is currently at Joe's Pub), Ron Raines (TV's "Guiding Light") and Jim Walton (of Paper Mill Playhouse's revival of Crazy For You).
Highlights of the dedication performance: Oklahoma-native Chenoweth singing Ado Annie's "I Cain't Say No" from Oklahoma!, Prince recreating Miss Adelaide's "Lament" from Guys and Dolls, Brent Barrett and Rebecca Luker (both alums of New York City Opera's Brigadoon) crooning "Almost Like Being in Love," Fitzgerald and Stone recreating their violently comic wrestling match from the Encores! concert of Babes in Arms, singing "I Wish I Were in Love Again," Jim Walton (of Paper Mill Playhouse's Crazy for You) offering a brief tap interlude in "I Got Rhythm," Ann Hampton Callaway (of Broadway's aborning Swing!) playing piano and singing a jazzy, rueful "My Funny Valentine," and Barbara Cook singing "Till There Was You," from The Music Man.
No mention was made in the ceremony that The Music Man is expected to have a Broadway revival in the 1999-2000 season.
Cook is the legendary soprano famed for her roles in The Music Man (playing Marian the Librarian), She Loves Me and the original Candide. She is a celebrated cabaret performer these days. The stamp event coincides with the release date of her new CD, "The Champion Season," with songs from musicals by Gower Champion.
The stamps will be available in New York City Sept. 21, and in the rest of the country on Sept. 22. The print run is 42.5 million stamps.
The stamps -- six stamps sold in a pane of 20 -- include composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II (pictured together), lyricist Alan Jay Lerner and composer Frederick Loewe (together), composer George Gershwin and lyricist Ira Gershwin (together), lyricist Lorenz Hart, composer-lyricist Meredith Willson and composer-lyricist Frank Loesser.
Show tune fans who question Willson's inclusion and not Jerome Kern, for example, should know that Kern was honored with an individual stamp in the past. Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma!, the Gershwins' Porgy and Bess, Lerner and Loewe's My Fair Lady and Hammerstein and Kern's Show Boat were previously honored with a solo stamps. George Gershwin was previously honored with a solo stamp; his return to the commemorative world is a rarity.
Those eligible to appear on commemorative stamps won't see their faces on envelopes soon: Those honored have to be dead at least 10 years, according to USPS's Cathy Yarosky. That leaves late, great theatrical giants Bob Fosse, Jerome Robbins, George Abbott, Jule Styne and Irving Berlin waiting in the wings. Ironically, the 10th anniversary of Berlin's death is Sept. 22, 1999. Other writers, like Kurt Weill, who died in 1950, or Moss Hart, Kitty Carlisle Hart's late husband, have yet to be honored.
Meredith Willson, the least known of the nine, wrote three Broadway shows, including one smash: 1957-58's The Music Man, which is expected to have a Broadway revival in 2000. His enduring Americana tunes, including "76 Trombones," "Till There Was You, " "Gary, Indiana," "My White Knight" (thought to be written by Frank Loesser) and "(Ya Got) Trouble," kept the former marching-band musician-composer on the map all these years.
The 33-cent Broadway Songwriters stamps are the last in a series called Legends of American Music. A Hollywood Composers series was released Sept. 16 in Hollywood.
Here is a quick look at the Broadway songwriters and their selected show and song credits:
• The Gershwins: Strike Up the Band, Girl Crazy, Lady, Be Good!, "Fascinating Rhythm," "I Got Rhythm," "'S Wonderful."
• Lerner & Loewe: Paint Your Wagon, My Fair Lady, Camelot, "If Ever I Would Leave You," "I Could Have Danced All Night," "They Call the Wind Maria."
• Lorenz Hart: A Connecticut Yankee, Pal Joey, Babes in Arms, "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered," "The Lady is a Tramp," "My Funny Valentine" (all with composer Richard Rodgers).
• Rodgers & Hammerstein: Oklahoma!, South Pacific, The Sound of Music, "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'," "Some Enchanted Evening," "My Favorite Things."
• Meredith Willson: The Music Man, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, Here's Love, 1491, "Shipoopi," "My White Knight," "Wells Fargo Wagon," "Gary, Indiana," "I Ain't Down Yet," "Belly Up to the Bar, Boys."
• Frank Loesser: Where's Charley?, How to Succeed in Business..., Guys and Dolls, Greenwillow, "I'll Know," "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat," "I Believe in You," "Once in Love With Amy."
The Broadhurst Theatre is at 235 W. 44th Street, between Broadway and Eighth Avenue.
-- By Kenneth Jones