The Sept. 21 New York City unveiling of six U.S. postage stamps honoring Broadway songwriters is expected to be a star-studded affair that includes performances by Tony Award winners.
The noon celebration of six commemorative stamps featuring nine writers -- Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lorenz Hart, Lerner and Loewe, George and Ira Gershwin, Frank Loesser and Meredith Willson -- is free and open to the public, at the Broadhurt Theatre. Expected on stage are performances by Tony Award winners Barbara Cook, Kristin Chenoweth, Roger Bart and Faith Prince, among other musical theatre stars.
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; speculation has it that she'll sing "Till There Was You," from The Music Man.
Also expected to perform at the public ceremony at the Broadhurst are Brent Barrett (Chicago), Ann Hampton Callaway (Swing!), 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), Ron Raines (TV's "Guiding Light") and Jim Walton (of Paper Mill Playhouse's revival of Crazy For You).
Master of Ceremonies will be Tom Wopat, with remarks by Gerald Schoenfeld, chairman of The Shubert Organization, Kitty Carlisle Hart and John Wargo of the U.S. Postal Service. As many as 12 songs by the writers will be sung at the event, which is open to the public (doors open at 11:30 AM). Relatives of some of the songwriters will be present.
The stamps will be available in New York City Sept. 21, and in the rest of the country the next day. 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