With a Song in His Heart, Charles Strouse Bounces Back After Illness

News   With a Song in His Heart, Charles Strouse Bounces Back After Illness
 
For the Tony Award-winning composer who co-wrote "Put On a Happy Face," there was nothing amusing about an infection that put him in the hospital for several days in late May.
Charles Strouse
Charles Strouse

Charles Strouse, who will turn 82 on June 7, is back home and working on his latest musical after taking ill May 16 at a Philadelphia show in his honor.

He was appearing at a public discussion about his work, after a concert of his songs at the Gershman YMCA in Philly, when he was struck with chills and started shaking.

"From a kidney stone, my body became infected, and before they were able to take the stone out, the infection sidelined me," Strouse told Playbill.com in a phone interview from his home on June 1.

Strouse, who won Tony Awards for Best Score for Annie and Applause, and penned songs for the Tony-winning Best Musical Bye Bye Birdie, was first hospitalized in Philadelphia and later New York City. His mission as a music-maker didn't wane during his recovery. He had work to do on his new Broadway-bound musical, so he asked if an electronic keyboard could be brought into his Manhattan hospital room.

"That's true, yes," Strouse said. "I have work I'm doing on Minsky's and that somehow supercedes my feelings about myself." Did a keyboard arrive? Were songs written in a hospital gown?

"No," he said with a laugh. "I could get the keyboard, but they pumped me so full of antibiotics, that I became sleepy, so I didn't go through with it. I was sleeping at odd hours and couldn't get my strength up. I'm fine now, and I'm working away."

Strouse, who likes to work at a piano, said it was a serious request. He explained, "It was easy enough to grant, with an electric keyboard. Then when I thought about it, I really didn't have that much energy. Everyone on Minsky's was away on vacation so I took the time to do what I was supposed to do, or could only do — rest."

The cause his infection, that kidney stone, will be removed the week of his birthday. "It's all quite under control now," he said.

Minsky's, with music by Strouse, lyrics by Susan Birkenhead, book by Tony winner Bob Martin (The Drowsy Chaperone), is a fictionalized biographical musical comedy about burlesque impresario Billy Minsky. Strouse estimated that about one-quarter of the show is "different" since its earlier 2009 Los Angeles world premiere.

"It's hard to weigh," he said. "The entire thrust of the play has been changed, I think very dramatically and very persuasively, to take it more seriously in terms of [what was happening in Jazz-Age American] society. [Producer] Bob Boyett has been a great influence in changing the tone."

There are also new musical numbers, he said. He was just completing work on one before taking a break to talk.

No Broadway dates have been announced for Minsky's, which has direction and choreography by Casey Nicholaw, but Strouse said he thinks it will happen in 2011. An industry reading of the latest version of the script and score is in the works.

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Strouse's resume of Broadway scores includes Best Musical Tony Award winner Bye Bye Birdie, plus Golden Boy, All American, It's a Bird…It's a Plane…It's Superman!, A Broadway Musical, Charlie and Algernon, Bring Back Birdie, Dance a Little Closer and Rags. Annie and Applause were also Best Musical Tony Award winners.

For more information about the career of Charles Strouse, visit www.charlesstrouse.com.

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