Lee Pockriss, Composer of Musicals Ernest in Love, Gatsby and Tovarich, Dead at 87

Obituaries   Lee Pockriss, Composer of Musicals Ernest in Love, Gatsby and Tovarich, Dead at 87
Lee Pockriss, the theatre and pop composer whose musicals include Broadway's Tovarich and Off-Broadway's Ernest in Love, both with lyricist Anne Croswell, died Nov. 14 at his home in Bridgewater, CT, the New York Times reported.

The 87-year-old songwriter's best-known work was for the pop songs "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini" and "Catch a Falling Star" and other hits, some of which have found their way into msucial theatre revues like Forever Plaid.

Tovarich is remembered as a Vivien Leigh musical comedy vehicle about rich Russian exiles becoming servants to an American family in 1920s Paris. Leigh won a Best Actress Tony Award for her turn; the show ran March to November 1963. Its cult cast album shows off Mr. Pockriss' gift for Irvin Berlin-style melody in such vivacious songs as "Uh Oh," "Stuck With Each Other," "Wilkes Barre, PA" and "It Used to Be" (none of which were sung by Leigh).

Ernest in Love, a 1960 Off-Broadway musical inspired by Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, had book and lyrics by Croswell, who took a cue from Wilde and delighted in wordplay. A cast album preserves the original production. Off-Broadway's Irish Repertory Theatre revived the musical in 2009-10.

In the late 1960s, with lyricist Carolyn Leigh and librettist Hugh Wheeler, Mr. Pockriss wrote a Broadway-aimed musical of the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel "The Great Gatsby." It never made it to production. In September, the score of the show, Gatsby, was reconstructed and presented in a special concert by Unsung Musicals Co. as part of the 2011 New York Musical Theatre Festival (Some of the songs have found their way into cabarets or recordings.)

According to Unsung Musicals' earlier announcement about the world-premiere of the score in concert, "The musical adaptation of 'The Great Gatsby' was announced to begin rehearsals in December 1969 toward a spring 1970 Broadway opening. However, the production was postponed and subsequent plans were made for an October-November 1970 Broadway opening following September out-of-town engagements at the Colonial Theatre in Boston and the National Theatre in Washington, DC. Budgeted at $600,000 and produced by band leader and clarinetist Artie Shaw, it was to have been directed by Gene Frankel with a set design by Robin Wagner. The musical adaptation never came to fruition. UMC's world premiere concert is not the musical adaptation of 'The Great Gatsby' and does not include any of Mr. Wheeler's book material." "By turns emotional, exciting and deliciously naughty, his Gatsby score was particularly tasty material on which to work," Ben West, artistic director of Unsung Musicals Co. told Playbill.com. "Beyond being gorgeously melodic, each musical number is stylistically specific to the character and situation for which it was written, thus yielding a wonderfully varried score united in a rich 1920s jazz sound. Thoughout my time researching the project, I was consistantly taken by his skill at using music as language. We are honored to have had the opportunity to give voice to his extraordinary score."

Mr. Pockriss, a Brooklyn native, reportedly attended Brooklyn College and studied musicology at New York University.

Survivors include wife Sonja and brother Harold, among others.

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