SCHOOLS OF THE STARS: Fiddler Lyricist Sheldon Harnick

By Robert Viagas
October 27, 2013

The lyricist of Fiddler on the Roof, The Applie Tree, She Loves Me, Tenderloin and Fiorello! tells how Northwestern University changed his life.



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Sheldon Harnick did not start out to be a Tony- and Pulitzer-winning lyricist. In the 1940s the future wordsmith of Fiddler on the Roof, the Applie Tree, She Loves Me, Tenderloin and Fiorello! tells PlaybillEDU™ that he was a student at Carl Schurz High School in Chicago, planning to study the violin.

"I played in my high school orchestra and my local community orchestra," he said. "A friend of mine who was a year ahead of me invited me to go up to Northwestern to see the WAA-MU Show. These are revues written and staged by the students, and so lavish that critics from the Chicago newspapers would come. [The annual shows are still in existence]. I had done some lyric writing in high school, but seeing those WAA-MU shows changed my life."

Harnick applied to Northwestern and was accepted. In his freshman year he wrote one song for WAA-MU, and by time he graduated he was writing half the show. "I learned what it meant to write for the theatre: working with musicians, working with actors. Northwestern had an amazing talent pool. Charlton Heston had just graduated and Charlotte Rae was one of my classmates and sang my songs."

"Going to Northwestern was a very important experience for me. I learned there that theatre was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life."

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