"I listened to it again and again, and I knew I wanted to be Yip Harburg," the fanciful lyricist of that show, plus the immortal film of "The Wizard of Oz," including the song "Over the Rainbow."
Several years later, after Harnick and Rae began their careers in New York, Harburg came to see Rae's act at the Village Vanguard nightclub, which included one of Harnick’s songs. It was at this event that Harnick met his idol, who said he liked the younger man’s work and wanted to hear more. Harnick engaged a pianist and went to perform his best material for the great man, who had been writing on Broadway since the 1920s.
"He gave me some wonderful advice," Harnick said. "He told me I should write with different composers, which helped my career enormously. He also said he was going to tell me the secret of writing for Broadway: That I should concentrate on writing character songs songs and comedy songs instead of the ballads — which was the exact opposite of what [his ex-partner] Jay Gorney had told me.
"Afterward he did something so sweet: He sent me a greeting card on which he drew a cartoon of an angel playing a harp with its feet. It said, 'Dear Sheldon, Keep whanging that lyre.'"
Harnick has followed that advice all his life. He is still hard at work on a variety of musical theatre projects, several of which will be showcased in the winter-spring 2014 Musicals in Mufti series. They will include the following:
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