Theatre Community Remembers Tony and Oscar Winner Marvin Hamlisch
By Playbill Staff
August 7, 2012
Playbill.com reached out to members of the theatre community Aug. 7, asking them to share their memories of the late Tony and Oscar-winning composer Marvin Hamlisch, whose numerous compositions included A Chorus Line, They're Playing Our Song, "The Way We Were," "The Entertainer," "Nobody Does It Better" and more. Several artists have also expressed their thoughts via Twitter.
Steven Brinberg, Barbra Streisand impressionist who sang in symphony concerts with Mr. Hamlisch
"I first met Marvin when he heard my CD and had the idea of my doing a number in the Streisand 'Timeless' tour. In the end it didn't happen because the concert, just a few weeks away, already had a young girl playing young Barbra (Lauren Frost, who we later did a show with), and it would be overkill. But he promised 'I definitely want to work with you.' Sure enough, within a few months he asked me to sing in one of his symphony concerts with Barbara Cook at the Kennedy Center. We would end up doing shows in over a dozen cities over the next decade. I was in total awe upon our meeting, but he put me quickly at ease as he did everyone. I've never met someone so accomplished who was so completely down to earth...far less famous people could learn from him. We would do these shows not just in DC but places as far flung as Fort Worth and Oklahoma City...places where one might worry about the 'unorothodox' appearance of a man dressed as a woman...but Marvin had no such qualms. I loved our chats as we would wait in the wings together....as well as onstage, where I would change the jokes leading up to my songs each night just so they would be different to him and make him laugh. The last show we did together was last year in Pasadena at an outdoor venue which didn't have proper dressing rooms. He graciously allowed me to change in his trailer. At one point he asked me to fix his collar, at which point I was fully made up as Barbra, and we both laughed at the sight of me-as-her, nails and all trying to fix his collar. You could ask him anything, and he could talk about any subject, not just show business, but politics, sports etc. In Milwaukee after a show he took us to get custard, as excited as a kid to show us this place...not blase at all like so many in the business. In Seattle he was so excited to take us to his favorite restuarant. He really enjoyed life. In spite of all his success, I think Marvin was underrated...when you look at the vast range of music, from musicals and film scores he leaves behind. It's truly sad to think of the music he still had in him that we won't get to know. Sadder still is the loss of the friendship of this wonderful human being."
Betty Buckley, Tony-winning actress, via Twitter
"So shocked & sad to learn of Marvin Hamlisch passing away at 68 after a brief illness. Such a lovely, gracious, talented man. Such a loss."
Susan Egan, Broadway actress and singer, via Twitter
"God Bless you, Marvin Hamlisch. I was so honored to work with you. You will be missed, sweet man."
Oskar Eustis, artistic director of the Public Theater
"The Public Theater is deeply saddened by the loss of the great Marvin Hamlisch. Marvin was a musical genius; he is a legend at The Public for his ground-breaking score for A Chorus Line, which changed The Public, and the American theater, forever. We are lucky he graced our stages. He will be missed."
Sheldon Harnick, Tony-winning co-creator of Fiddler on the Roof, She Loves Me
"This is a tragic loss. He was a gigantic talent as a composer, conductor, pianist and a wit. He was a dear friend to me and Margie."
Cheyenne Jackson, Broadway actor and singer, via Twitter
"Unbelievably sad about the passing of Marvin Hamlisch. We've lost one of the best."
Donna McKechnie, Tony-winning star of A Chorus Line
"When I first met Marvin he was rehearsal pianist and I asked him to play an audition for me. I went to his apartment, and he told me the most incredible story about his family fleeing the Nazis. His father was a musician, and he had to jump off the train to avoid being caught, throwing his trombone off first. He survived and made it to this country with his trombone. His family was close and worked very hard to make sure he had good musical training. The energy and passion and sense of fun he possessed never left him. As a pianist, he was renowned for his brilliance and speed and a strong left hand (which was always my baromoter for a great player). His success as a composer as everyone knows is world-wide, but when I hear his sublime and beautiful melodies, I can't help thinking about that impassioned young man and his family legacy of courage, love and triumph."
Idina Menzel, Tony-winning actress, who performed in concert with Mr. Hamlisch, in a statement
"Marvin was a friend and mentor, but often felt like a second father to me. To have shared the stage with such a legend has been some of the most rewarding moments in my career. Not only does he leave us with the most precious of melodies and music, but anyone who has ever shared an after-show drink with him can attest to his hysterical storytelling and deep love for his stunning wife Terre. My heart is broken. He made me feel so special. I love him so much."
Liza Minnelli, Tony and Oscar-winning actress and singer, in a statement
"Marvin Hamlisch and I have been best friends since I was 13 years old. He arranged my first album, my second album, the songs for 'Judy Garland & Liza Minnelli at the London Palladium' and just about everything else. He was one of the funniest people I knew. I will miss his talent, our laughter & friendship, but mostly I will miss Marvin. My heart is with his wife Terre always. I have lost my first lifelong best friend, and sadly we have lost a splendid, splendid talent."
Phyllis Newman, Tony-winning actress and creator of Phyllis Newman Women's Health Initiative
"If Marvin wasn't such a great composer, he could have been Jerry Seinfeld, one of the funniest men ever!... When Marvin was about 16 years old, he came to our apartment to play piano for a party we were having. At that time he was playing back-up piano and was also just a rehearsal pianist. Jules Styne saw him that night at our party and hired him for one of his parties. Then producer Sam Spiegel, who was also at one of the parties, heard Marvin play and realized that Marvin could play just about anything, so he hired him as well..... and that may or may not have been his introduction to the Broadway community."
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN
Bernadette Peters, Tony-winning actress and star of The Goodbye Girl
"Marvin Hamlisch was an amazing writer, conductor, raconteur and all in all, a wonderful showman!! Working with him was a dream come true. His talents gave joy to audiences worldwide. What a great loss for all."
Neil Portnow, President and CEO of The Recording Academy, in a statement
"Four-time Grammy winner Marvin Hamlisch was a masterful composer whose work transcended Broadway stages and the silver screen. His compositions for Broadway hits such as A Chorus Line and The Goodbye Girl, and scores for films 'Sophie’s Choice,' 'Ordinary People,' and 'The Way We Were' earned him numerous accolades, including the prestigious honor of having received Academy Awards, Emmys, Golden Globes, Tonys and a Pulitzer Prize — in addition to his Grammy Awards. His work had a significant influence on our culture, and continues to reach across generations. The music industry has lost a truly gifted artist, and our condolences are with his family, friends and all those who were inspired by his singular talent."
Seth Rudetsky, actor, musician, Playbill.com columnist and star of They're Playing Our Song benefit concert
"He was a genius yet a down-to-earth New York Jewish boy. He was so supportive when I asked him if I could play Vernon in They're Playing Our Song (opposite Sutton Foster). As a matter of fact, he approved my first idea of doing it...opposite Gavin Creel! But in the long run, we couldn't convince the other rights holders. And, PS, both times I verbally asked him...he was one of those people who never graduated to email. It was a phone call or fax. And, it was a phone call to his home number. No cell phone."
Barbra Streisand, Oscar-winning actress, on her official website
"I'm devastated. He was my dear friend. He’s been in my life ever since the first day I met him in 1963, when he was my rehearsal pianist for Funny Girl. He played at my wedding in 1998… and recently for me at a benefit for women’s heart disease. The world will remember Marvin for his brilliant musical accomplishments, from A Chorus Line to 'The Way We Were,' and so many others, but when I think of him now, it was his brilliantly quick mind, his generosity, and delicious sense of humor that made him a delight to be around. Just last night, I was trying to reach him, to tell him how much I loved him, and that I wanted to use an old song of his, that I had just heard for the first time. He was a true musical genius, but above all that, he was a beautiful human being. I will truly miss him."
David Zippel, Tony winner and lyricist for The Goodbye Girl
"The temptation is to use Ed Kleban's wonderful lyric for 'One' to describe Marvin, but I will try to use my own words. Marvin was astonishing! He was as funny as any stand-up comic, lightning fast, extremely emotional, extraordinarliy kind, wildly enthusiastic, massively talented and so much fun. Writing with Marvin was a delight, filled with laughter, an avalanche of melody, and, did I mention, enthusiasm? When Marvin bounced ideas, there was actual bouncing. A little window into Marvin: It was early in our collaboration. We were working at his house in Long Island, and he knew that I had to be back in the city early that evening. Time was getting tight. I ran upstairs to get my bag, and when I came downstairs to say goodbye Marvin was nowhere to be found. Then I heard a horn honk. When I walked out to the driveway, Marvin was getting out of my car, which he had just filled with gas. What a guy! There has never been anyone like him, and there never will be. I will miss him forever."