ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Remembering Marvin Hamlisch, and the Way He Was

By Seth Rudetsky
13 Aug 2012

Michael Bennett and Joe Papp
Sony Music Entertainment
Right after he won the three Oscars, Michael Bennett contacted him. Marvin was an incredible fan of his. When he met Michael years earlier, he told him that he wasn't going to file Michael's phone number in his address book under B for Bennett, but under G for Genius. Michael called and asked him to fly to New York because he had an idea for a show. Of course, Marvin's agents were completely irritated. He was the only composer that was being booked on national talk shows…he could have any high-paying gig he wanted. But instead, Marvin wanted to work in theatre. He went to Michael's apartment and saw that it was all black. Marvin realized it was because Michael had special lights on all of his awards and the black really made them stand out and glimmer! He met with Michael and was incredibly excited to hear the idea. Michael sat him down told him: (pause)… "It's about chorus kids." Marvin sat and waited for the beginning, middle and end. Silence. Marvin went home and, even though it was not the way he was used to working, he knew he had to say yes. Marvin thought that one of the reasons Bennett hired him, and not of the Broadway reigning greats of the time, is because he was a Broadway newcomer and Michael knew that he could have more control that way. Tricky! And it worked!

When they first workshopped it, the show was five hours long! After they did a run-through, Michael asked Marvin his opinion and Marvin said he could only comment on the first two hours. Brava. Marvin said that he really didn't get the show for a long time as he was working on it…until Michael drew the line on the floor and said it was about people "on the line." Then it became clear to him. Marvin also said that if you're composing a show, you shouldn't work very hard on the opening number. The original opening number for A Chorus Line was called "Resume." The only thing that remains in the opening we all know now is the melody of "I really need this job" and the cast holding their 8x10's in front of their faces. Marvin advised that composer/lyricists should essentially just write a dummy version of an opening because it's going to change later on. He said that you have to write the bulk of the show and then you'll be able to really see what the show is about. That's when you write the opening. He said that both "Tradition" from Fiddler on the Roof and "Comedy Tonight" from Forum were both written after the bulk of the show was. He and Ed Kleban wrote all of A Chorus Line and then went back and wrote the opening.

***

OK, I wrote more about Marvin in an appreciation that will run in the September issue of Playbill magazine. Check it out when you see a Broadway show.



I'll conclude by saying that I knew I was such a fan of his, but I didn't realize in how many different ways he influenced me. As most of you know, I've been desperately trying to finish my sequel to my first young adult novel, "My Awesome/Awful Popularity Plan." I wrote around half of it and even though I knew what was happening plot-wise, it took me that long to finally start to understand the themes. So, I went back to the beginning and started re-writing it now that I understood more about the book. I realize now that I felt so comfortable doing that because I remembered what Marvin had told me about writing a show and then going back and writing the opening. I internally knew that going back to the beginning was the right thing to do. So, thank you, Marvin, for everything you brought to the world. And, thank for helping me finish my sequel. Last Wednesday night at 10 PM, I sent it into Random House!

For those of you as obsessed as I with Marvin's music, here are some videos: This is "At The Ballet" from the special performance when A Chorus Line became the longest running musical; here's Playbill Obsessed video I did when I was playing Vernon in They're Playing Our Song with Sutton Foster; and here's Barbra singing one of his most gorgeous songs!

 

(Seth Rudetsky is the afternoon Broadway host on SiriusXM. He has played piano for over 15 Broadway shows, was Grammy-nominated for his concert CD of Hair and Emmy-nominated for being a comedy writer on "The Rosie O'Donnell Show." He has written two novels, "Broadway Nights" and "My Awesome/Awful Popularity Plan," which are also available at Audible.com. He recently launched SethTV.com, where you can contact him and view all of his videos and his sassy new reality show.)

View the Entire Photo Gallery
Hamlisch in rehearsal for Smile with Anne Bobby, Tia Riebling, Nikki Rene, Donna Marie Elio, Veanne Cox, Lauren Goler, Cheryl-Ann Rossi, Julie Tussey, Cindy Oakes and Jodi Benson, Sept. 1986