PLAYBILL BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Sheldon Harnick, the Tony and Pulitzer-Winning Lyricist of Fiorello!

By Robert Viagas
26 Jan 2013

Jerry Bock
Photo by Aubrey Reuben

Regarding your late partner, Mr. Bock, looking back on your work together, how would you describe his career?
SH: Jerry Bock was an unusual composer in many ways. I remember Steve Sondheim making the comment that Jerry was one of the few composers whose music really had humor in it — there are not many. To work with Jerry was exciting. He used to send me tapes with music on it, and I couldn't wait to hear those tapes because there was always something on them that I couldn't wait to start setting lyrics to. Also, Jerry was a good lyricist himself, so that he was a wonderful editor. And, he would look at a lyric and know what to preserve and what to cut and make suggestions for parts that weren't working, so it was a very fruitful collaboration.

Was there a show after The Rothschilds that the two of you wanted to do that you never quite got on?
SH: Well, we started one about the English naval hero Lord Nelson, but the book writer abandoned the project, and somehow it all fell apart, so it never got finished.

What was it like working with Mr. Bock again on the 2004 revival of Fiddler, writing that "Topsy Turvy" song?
SH: Well, we had a falling out — an artistic falling out — over problems with The Rothschilds, but then [director] David Leveaux suggested that he wanted a new song for the Fiddler revival. He wanted a song about the way the matchmaker's profession had changed. And I thought, "Are we going to be able to work together after 30 years?" And, the years just fell away. We got together in his studio, and, after an initial period of a little stiffness, everything was wonderful, and I thought maybe we'd be working again, but it didn't work out that way.