Fiddler Composer Jerry Bock Will Be Celebrated at a Broadway Memorial on Jan. 24

News   Fiddler Composer Jerry Bock Will Be Celebrated at a Broadway Memorial on Jan. 24
Friends, colleagues and fans will celebrate the life and work of the late composer Jerry Bock, whose Broadway scores include Fiddler on the Roof, The Apple Tree, She Loves Me and The Rothschilds, on Jan. 24 at the American Airlines Theatre.

Jerry Bock
Jerry Bock Photo by Aubrey Reuben

Bock's friend and lawyer Richard M. Ticktin told that the event at 2:30 PM is to be open to the public and will include remembrances from host Sheldon Harnick (Bock's primary lyricist), producer-director Harold Prince, actor-director Lonny Price, actress Chita Rivera, Rothschilds librettist Sherman Yellen, Roundabout Theatre Company artistic director Todd Haimes, She Loves Me librettist Joe Masteroff, Apple Tree producer Stuart Ostrow, designer Tony Walton and Bock's daughter, Portia.

Performances of Bock's songs will be part of the experience, with recreations of famous numbers by some original cast members. There will also be a special video presentation. 

The event's artistic coordinator is Michael Montel. Larry Yurman will be the musical director.

Seating is expected to be first come, first served for members of the public. Industry access will be announced.

* Bock, 81, died in the early morning hours of Nov. 3, 2010, at Northern Westchester Medical Center in Mount Kisco, NY. He had a stroke on Oct. 30, and died of heart failure Nov. 3. He lived in Manhattan. Survivors include his wife, Patti, daughter Portia Bock, son George Bock and granddaughter Edie Mae Shipler.

He composed the indelible score to Fiddler on the Roof, and collaborated with longtime creative partner, lyricist Sheldon Harnick, on many other shows during a prolific 15 years beginning in 1956. The opening notes of Fiddler — six melancholy saws on a violin — are as familiar as any passage in the history of American musical theatre. To adapt Sholom Aleichem's sadly comic tales of Tevye, a shtetl-dwelling dairyman in late-19th-century Russia, Bock drew on the rich musical heritage of Jewish prayer and klezmer music, while staying within the framework of musical theatre songwriting traditions. The 1964 score relied heavily on fiddle-tinged minor melodies. Even the happier songs, such as "Matchmaker, Matchmaker" and "To Life," seem to be musically underpinned with potential sadness.

The show was an instant hit with audiences in 1964 and ran for six years, and was much-revived on tour and on Broadway. "The effect comes close," wrote Harold Clurman, explaining the musical's effect on audiences, "within the facile laughter, the snug appreciation of an anticipated showmanship, to something religious."

Bock said he felt blessed he didn't come up with a "Some Enchanted Evening" for the show. "The whole score somehow received an appreciation without one particular number stepping out from it," he told The news of Bock's passing comes as a second recent shock to Fiddler fans: Joseph Stein, the librettist of Fiddler, died Oct. 24 at age 98. Harnick survives them.

Fiddler contained nearly all of Mr. Bock's compositions that are familiar to the wider public, including "If I Were a Rich Man" and "Sunrise, Sunset." But among theatre fans, his scores (with lyricist Harnick) for She Loves Me, Fiorello! and The Rothschilds are equally treasured. She Loves Me, in particular, is embraced as a near-perfect piece of musical storytelling, replete with small-scaled melodies that succinctly reveal character. The show musicalized the familiar tale of "The Shop Around the Corner," about two store clerks who detest each other, but are also, unknowingly, loving pen pals. The score includes such intimate treasures as "She Loves Me," "I Resolve," "Will He Like Me?" and, most famously, "Vanilla Ice Cream," in which the heroine reads love into the simple gift of dessert. The song was first delivered by Barbara Cook.

Jerry Bock

Bock and Harnick first hit it big with Fiorello!, a buoyant musical about New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, which won them their first Tony Award, not to mention a rare Pulitzer Prize for a musical. The duo were invited to write the score by director George Abbott and producer Harold Prince, who had seen their previous effort, The Body Beautiful, a flop that ran for 60 performances in 1958. Reversing that inauspicious start, Fiorello! ran for 796 performances. They would go on to win Tony Awards for Fiddler and be nominated for The Apple Tree and The Rothschilds. They also wrote the musical Tenderloin. Taken together, this run of shows made them arguably the most important musical team writing for Broadway during the 1960s.

Their partnership, however, would not outlive that decade. Bock and Harnick's split came with The Rothschilds in 1970, when they had had a falling out over the replacement of the show's director, Derek Goldby, by Michael Kidd. Furthermore — according to Harnick — Bock decided it was time for him to return to writing his own lyrics. (Harnick called him an excellent lyricist.) While Harnick eventually spoke publicly about the break-up, Bock steadfastly refused to be interviewed about the matter. Bock's career as a Broadway composer ended with the dissolving of his partnership with Harnick — 15 years of constant activity followed by nearly 40 years of all-but-complete silence. When Bock did return to Broadway, it was for a revival of one of his efforts with Harnick. (They wrote a new song, "Topsy Turvy," for Yente the Matchmaker for the most recent revival of Fiddler on the Roof. It is thought to be the last song they wrote together; it is heard on the PS Classics cast album of the revival.)

Jerrold Lewis Bock was born Nov. 23, 1928, in New Haven, CT, and raised in Flushing, Queens. He studied the piano from an early age and was soon able to play complicated compositions by ear. He attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he wrote a musical titled Big As Life, about Paul Bunyan, which toured the state and had a run in Chicago. After graduation he spent three summers at the Tamiment Playhouse in the Poconos and wrote for early television revues with lyricist Larry Holofcener.

Despite his reputation as a composer, Bock had, from early on, equal ambitions to write lyrics. He made his Broadway debut in 1955 with the revue Catch a Star, in which he collaborated on both the music and words with Holofcener — whom he had met at college — and George Weiss. The show, which starred Sammy Davis, Jr., had a respectable run of a year. Bock and Holofcener also worked together on Ziegfeld Follies of 1956, which closed before it reached New York.

Harvey Fierstein in the recent Broadway revival of Fiddler on the Roof
photo by Joan Marcus

Bock and Harnick met the next year and began a partnership. It was a meeting of opposites, by Mr. Harnick's estimation: "I tend to approach things skeptically and pessimistically. Jerry Bock is a bubbling, ebullient personality." Critics have sometimes observed that Bock provided the complicating compositional edge to the partnership, while Harnick's lyrics furnished a balancing directness and emotional simplicity. The team was known for adapting their scores to the shows at hand, which were set in places as disparate as Russia, Hungary, Europe and New York City, from the 18th to 20th centuries.

A story connected to Fiorello! illustrates their adaptability. Confronted with a clumsy, confining scene set in a precinct house where party workers were playing poker while talking politics, they composed "Politics and Poker." The song became one of the hits of the show and likely helped win them the Pulitzer.

Bock was often lucky in his interpreters. Nearly all of his and Harnick's musicals featured a towering central performance that captured not only the spirit of the character, but of the show itself: Tom Bosley in Fiorello!; Barbara Cook in She Loves Me; Zero Mostel in Fiddler on the Rood; Barbara Harris in The Apple Tree, a trio of short musicals about the history of male-female relations; and Hal Linden in The Rothschilds.

Bock's last major project was 1040, a musical about the tax code written with Jerry Sterner. It had a read-through in November 1997 at the Musical Theatre Lab at the University of Houston School of Theatre. But there were differences, and Sterner ended up presenting 1040 the following year as a play.

The Princess Who Could Not Be Heard, a new work, played the 29th Annual Houston's Children's Theatre Festival in 2007.

The Jerry Bock Award for Excellence in Musical Theatre, established in 1997, is an annual $2,000 grant presented to a composer and lyricist. Mr. Bock was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1972.

According to his lawyer, in recent months, Bock had been writing music and lyrics for a new musical, Counterpoint, based on a script by Evan Hunter. The script adaptation was by Stuart Ostrow.

Bock was a 2010 Emmy Award winner for Outstanding Original Song — Children's and Animation category — for "A Fiddler Crab Am I," penned with Larry Hochman and Billy Aronson. It was heard on the series "Wonder Pets."

Harvey Fierstein, who replaced Alfred Molina as Tevye in the 2004-06 revival of Fiddler on the Roof, told on Nov. 3, "When I was asked to do Fiddler, I insisted that Jerry, Joe [Stein] and Sheldon [Harnick] hear me sing the score just so there'd be no ugly surprises. After singing a few numbers they got up and put their arms around me and said, 'Do the role with our blessings.' But I made them sit back down and listen to me sing 'Chavaleh.' When I finished I looked up to find Jerry Bock wiping away tears and nodding toward me. That's when I knew I could play Tevye. Jerry Bock was a gentle angel whose friendship I treasured. I am broken hearted at his loss."

Sheldon Harnick, Joseph Stein, Jerry Bock and Jerome Robbins
Sheldon Harnick, Joseph Stein, Jerry Bock and Jerome Robbins
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