"I'm a tired person!" laughed Susan Birkenhead when Playbill On-Line caught up with her at the Drama Desk Award Nominations cocktail party, Apr. 30 at midtown Manhattan's Broadway Grill restaurant.
She's not just tired because she penned the lyrics for two Broadway musicals this year: Triumph of Love (Drama Desk nomination) and High Society (additional lyrics); Birkenhead also has three major projects coming up. "Years ago, you could do two things at once, but it's so much more complicated now," Birkenhead said.
Nevertheless, she's working on both The Night They Raided Minsky's and Dr. Zhivago, plus a third project she's not yet able to mention by name.
Asked how she and her collaborators were faring on Minsky's, Birkenhead said, "All we do is laugh! We had a reading three weeks ago, and we should have a workshop up by the end of summer. Her favorite song so far? "It Could Have Been Worse," a comedic trio.
Mike Ockrent is directing Minsky's, which has music by Charles Strouse and a libretto by Evan Hunter (novelist of the Ed McBain mystery series). "It's a real `guy' thing," Birkenhead told Playbill On-Line back in October 1997. "I'm having the best time with these guys. It's so completely different from these other worlds. It's a funny, funny book."
Tentative songs and titles in the score include, "Words," "Poor Cleopatra, The Queen Of The Nile;" (a burlesque song) and "A Fraction Of An Inch."
The Night They Raided Minsky's was filmed by William Friedkin in 1968. This story of the end of the burlesque era in Manhattan featured Jason Robards, Elliott Gould and Bert Lahr.
As for Zhivago, Birkenhead, Arthur Kopit and Lucy Simon met May 4, to plan an "extensive reading" of the piece. "We were supposed to be working on it earlier this spring, but High Society kind of pushed it aside." Songs in that show include "Anoushka," "Spells" and "A Song Never Sung."
Asked if the popular David Lean film is strongly influencing the stage musical of Dr. Zhivago, Birkenhead said, "I've read the [Boris Pasternak] book once and seen the movie twice. And no, we're not doing `Lara's Theme.' Susan has written an absolutely gorgeous song to use instead."
Winner of a Tony nomination and Drama Desk award for her work on Jelly's Last Jam, lyricist Birkenhead was nominated for a Tony (along with other collaborators) in helping to adapt Studs Terkel's Working, and she nabbed an Outer Critics Circle Award for What About Luv?, based on Murray Schisgal's Luv!.
High Society plays in an open run at the St. James Theatre, and although Triumph of Love closed months ago and was all-but forgotten by the Tony nominators (Betty Buckley got a Best Actress nod), fans of the show and of Birkenhead's lyrics will be happy to know John Yap's TER label will release an original cast recording of Triumph in June.
-- By David Lefkowitz