"Near to You": Composer Richard Adler Celebrated at Memorial

News   "Near to You": Composer Richard Adler Celebrated at Memorial
Richard Adler, the co-songwriter of the enduring musicals Damn Yankees and The Pajama Game, was remembered by friends and family on June 27 at a ceremony held at Saint Bartholomew's Church on Park Avenue and 51st Street.

Richard Adler
Richard Adler

Adler died on June 21 at the age of 90.

Largely a religious affair, the ceremony was adorned with the usual prayers and psalms. But at its center were two tunes written by Adler and his writing partner, Jerry Ross, who died in 1955 while both of their hit shows were still playing on Broadway. (They share both music and lyric credit.) "Hey, There," from The Pajama Game, was sung by Colleen Fitzpatrick, a frequent collaborator, while "Near to You," from Damn Yankees, was rendered by Fitzpatrick and Paul Katz, who accompanied her.

Fitzpatrick told of meeting Adler's son, the late Christopher, at an audition before encountering his father. She didn't get the part she was trying out for, but Christopher recommended an opera-trained vocal teacher that he thought might improve her voice. She looked the instructor up and began taking lessons. Years later, when she auditioned for Richard Adler, he commented, "I like the way you sing."

"I sort of feel that Christopher helped me to eventually work for Richard," said Fitzpatrick.

"He was tough, he was demanding, he was larger than life," she said of Richard Adler. "He once told me when I was singing one of his pieces, 'Singing is like talking, and you don't sound like you're talking. There's a comma in that line and I put it there for a reason.'" "The first film I saw was 'Damn Yankees,'" said Paul Katz, "and it changed my life. So you could say that Richard changed my life."

Colleen Fitzpatrick
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

In her introduction of "Near to You," Fitzpatrick said that Adler once instructed his wife Susan to play it whenever he was out of town on business, as a reminder of how he felt about her. The song begins:

"Near to you, near to you,
Even though you're far away,
So near to you, always near to you,
As near as April is to May."

Several members of the Adler family spoke, including son Charles Shipman and his wife Nydia. "When my father was young, he read 'Look Homeward, Angel' by Tom Wolfe," said Shipman. "After that, he knew he had to go to college at the University of North Carolina," located in Wolfe's home state. In 1993, the book's hold on Adler's imagination was intact. He wrote a symphonic piece based on the novel, using a passage of the book which includes the lines, "Which of us has known his brother? Which of us has looked into his father's heart? Which of us has not remained forever prison-pent? Which of us is not forever a stranger and alone?" It was performed by the North Carolina Symphony Orchestra.

Shipman said that Adler had been proud of his matchmaking skills, and had introduced him to Nydia. To honor him, they named their daughter Lola Jane, after a character in Damn Yankees.

Son Andrew Adler spoke of his father's collaboration with Jerry Ross.

"Jerry Ross' death was a devastating loss for my father," he said. "He was 29, the same age Christopher was when he died." Christopher Adler died in 1984. "It was a symbiotic relationship on every level. When he died, they were just at the beginning of a long career. Just imagine what the next dozen musicals might have been. His wife, Susan, used to complain that Richard was more married to Jerry than he was to her."

At the front of the church, near the altar, were several large photographs of Richard Adler, including one of him as a teenager, and another of him dressed in his naval uniform. The composer served in the Navy during World War II.

Guests exited the church to the sound of bagpipes playing "America the Beautiful."

Read Playbill.com's obituary of Richard Adler.

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