In the liner notes of Cy Coleman's final solo CD, "It Started with a Dream," the Tony-winning composer of Sweet Charity, City of Angels and The Will Rogers Follies wrote, "Everything you need to know about me is in my music." It's an idea cabaret star Jeff Harnar says he "took to heart" while preparing his new show, "A Collective Cy," for a three-weekend run that plays Nov. 5-6, Nov. 12-13 and Nov. 19-20 at Feinstein's at the Regency.
With a roster of 18 Coleman songs, the two-time MAC Award winner says, "There's one on that CD that he actually wrote the music and lyrics to called 'Somebody' that we're featuring because it's the most explicit example of Cy Coleman literally having his voice represented. It was a song that Pearl Bailey was going to record and didn't. It's never really gotten its day in the sun, so we're going to include it."
Of course, classics like "Witchcraft" and "Hey, Look Me Over" will also be heard. "I wanted to be sure there were enough standards in the show," says Harnar, "because he is not the kind of household name like a Cole Porter or a Jerry Herman or a Stephen Sondheim. So I wanted it to be sure that it was evident why you know Cy Coleman's music." Still, Harnar argues that Coleman's gift might've worked against him in the fame game. "One of his greatest gifts," the singer says, "was that he was a chameleon. He wrote jazz for City of Angels, country-folk for Will Rogers Follies, circus marches for Barnum. With Cy Coleman there was a kind of Zelig-like quality where he served his own vehicles almost to the point where he didn't have his own voice in a unique way. And yet, having said that, when you hear a certain Cy Coleman vamp, you instantly know it's him."
Hardcore theatre aficionados, however, can look forward to savoring such little-heard tunes as "Too Little Time" (cut from Barnum) and two songs from the yet-to-be-produced Pamela's First Musical, which Coleman was working on with David Zippel and Wendy Wasserstein at the time of his death in 2004. Although "A Collective Cy" will debut during the month that marks the second anniversary of Coleman's demise, Harnar says the spirit of the show—his first extended gig in Gotham in seven years and one which reunites him with musical director Alex Rybeck—"should feel like a party." To that end, Harnar has invited a series of leading ladies (and dear friends) for duets: "I made my Carnegie Hall debut with Karen Ziemba. Liz Callaway and I went to high school together in Chicago. This will be our first singing in public together since we did Kismet at New Trier High School," he laughs. Andrea Marcovicci is also slated to appear as well as Phyllis McGuire of the McGuire Sisters, who Harnar opened for in the late eighties. "She has graciously agreed to come and sing 'The Colors of My Life' with me. She hasn't been back to New York since before 9/11, so she's very excited to do this."
For Harnar, it all comes back to the soul of Cy. "One of the songs that's been an anchor for me," Harnar concludes, "has been 'Some Kind of Music.'" One of the late composer's favorites, Harnar recounts Carolyn Leigh's lyrics: "The gist of it is," he says, "All I want in the world is some kind of music my heart can listen to and cheer."
"And Cy Coleman did that," Harnar quite rightfully observes. "He gave us that."
—Actor-writer David Drake contributes a monthly column, "The Cabaret Beat," to the Playbill subscription issue.