The Best is Yet to Come will dip into the deep well of Coleman's catalog, offering classic and obscure numbers he wrote with a variety of lyricists, including Carolyn Leigh, Dorothy Fields, Comden and Green, Michael Stewart, Zippel and others.
Lillias White, who won the Best Actress Tony for Coleman's The Life, is expected to star with Jason Graae (Broadway's Falsettos, A Grand Night for Singing) and three others, backed up by an eight-piece swing band. Performances will play July 9-Aug. 2.
"His body of work was so extraordinary it would be exciting to see it in revue form, and I had had talked to Cy about it years ago," Zippel told Playbill.com. "He told me: 'That's for after I'm gone; let's write something new.'"
Zippel, who, with Coleman, also wrote the yet-to-be produced comic Napoleon musical, N, and Pamela's First Musical, contacted the composer's widow, Shelby, and she enthusiastically agreed to move forward with a revue, the lyricist said. Devised and directed by Zippel, The Best is Yet to Come takes its title seriously and will include songs from Coleman musicals that may yet surface (N, Pamela's First Musical and the Marilyn and Alan Bergman collaboration known as In the Pocket or Like Jazz).
Expect a classic revue form, Zippel said, where "the juxtaposition of the songs and the personalities" create fresh contexts for the songs while honoring the craft.
Zippel said The Best is Yet to Come will be divided between Coleman's pop standards (think "Witchcraft" or the title song), show music (Sweet Charity, Little Me, Seesaw, Barnum, I Love My Wife and more) and past Carolyn Leigh obscurities or songs that have yet to dawn.
Coleman died in 2004. He won Tony Awards for his scores to The Will Rogers Follies (1991, with lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green); City of Angels (1990, with lyrics by David Zippel); and On the Twentieth Century (1978, with lyrics by Comden and Green).
He was Tony-nominated for the book and score of The Life (about Times Square hookers and hustlers circa 1980); the score of Barnum (about showman P.T. Barnum, with lyrics by Michael Stewart); I Love My Wife (about wife-swapping in suburban New Jersey, with lyrics by Stewart); Seesaw (based on the play Two for the Seesaw, with lyrics by Dorothy Fields); Sweet Charity and Little Me (1963). He also served as a producer on some of his Broadway projects.
Here's how Rubicon bills The Best is Yet to Come: "In a career spanning seven decades, Cy Coleman created a glittering string of standards and popular music classics, as well as hundreds of hits for stage like City of Angels, Sweet Charity, Barnum, The Life, Little Me, On the Twentieth Century and Will Rogers Follies. Tony Award-winning writer and director David Zippel pay homage to Coleman with an elegant new musical revue performed by five singers accompanied by an eight-piece swing band. The sparkling score includes as-yet unpublished Coleman works, as well as songs made famous by the likes of Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Barbra Streisand."
For tickets or more information, call (805) 667-2900 or rubicontheatre.org.
Coleman, a native New Yorker, was born Seymour Kaufman. He played classical music at Carnegie Hall and Town Hall as a child, but as an adult heard the siren call of jazz, pop and theatre music and never looked back. Working with the lyricist Carolyn Leigh in his early writing career in the late 1950s and '60s, he penned such hits as "Witchcraft," "The Best Is Yet to Come," "You Fascinate Me So" and "When in Rome."
Leigh and Coleman would venture into the musical theatre, writing the scores to the Lucille Ball vehicle Wildcat (which offered the tune "Hey, Look Me Over!") and Little Me (which boasted "Real Live Girl" and "I've Got Your Number"). There was friction in the relationship. Pianist Coleman and his Cy Coleman Trio were playing engagements around the country, and Leigh wanted him to stay put in New York and focus on writing musicals.
Though Coleman did settle down to a theatre-writing life, he and Leigh did not write another show. With the legendary lyricist Dorothy Fields, he wrote "Where Am I Going?," "If My Friends Could See Me Now," "Big Spender" and "There's Gotta Be Something Better Than This" for Sweet Charity, Bob Fosse and Neil Simon's 1966 reimagining of Federico Fellini's "Nights of Cabiria." In the musical fable, Gwen Verdon starred as a dance hall hostess named Charity Hope Valentine (in the film, Cabiria is a prostitute).
The show's second Broadway revival (Fosse staged it in 1987) surfaced in 2004-05, months after Coleman's death. Those who only knew Cy Coleman as a Tony Award winning composer caught a rare glimpse of the pre-Broadway Coleman when he returned to his jazz piano roots in October 2004 for a gig at Feinstein's at the Regency.
The engagement represented life as Coleman lived it some 40 years earlier — performing not just his own jazz waltzes and songs but tunes by other writers. His October 2004 songlist included "Green Dolphin Street," "But Not for Me," "Comin' Home," "Mean to Me" and more. His side men were Gary Haase (on bass) and Buddy Williams (on drums).
The Feinstein's run (with the composer playing piano and singing) conjured Coleman's milieu of the 1950s and '60s, when he played smoke-filled rooms in Florida, hotels in Detroit and even his own 75-seat 58th Street nightclub, The Playroom, which he ran with partners in the late 1950s. William Holden had his own barstool there, Coleman told Playbill.com.
A couple of jazz performance albums from that era have been re-released for CD, but Coleman once said he'd like to unearth some others and get them on the market.
Why did Coleman stop performing? It's not that people stopped asking, he said. The Emmy-wining, Oscar nominated and Grammy-winning composer grew so busy creating and/or rehearsing musicals, from the film of "Sweet Charity" to Seesaw and beyond (including such unproduced shows as Eleanor, about Mrs. Roosevelt), that it became impractical to accept bookings.
"I never lost my love of playing," Coleman once said. "I've always worked from that base, as a musician."
One of the things that distinguished Coleman (beyond his pure, confident tunefulness) is the range of styles he used: A touch of folk and country in Will Rogers Follies, comic opera in On the Twentieth Century, vocalese and jazz in City of Angels, '60s disco in Sweet Charity, R&B in The Life, circus chase in Barnum, a country song in I Love My Life, and more.
For his late-career musical, The Great Ostrovsky, which won him a Barrymore Award in Philadelphia, he used klezmer and a Yiddish theatre music sound from the early 20th century.
"He was trying to reinvent his sound, he was always doing different style of theatre music — I think he was very proud of that," said Mary-Mitchell Campbell, a friend, pianist and music director who worked on a number of Cy Coleman projects, including Grace, a Dutch-language musical about Grace Kelly, Hitchcock and the royals of Monaco that bowed in Amsterdam in 2001.
Of Grace, Coleman had said, "Musically, I wanted to do a meld of European style and American style — the European feeling along with American pizzazz. That fascinated me."