There's a very enjoyable article in today's Washington Post about Broadway lyricist Sheldon Harnick, passed along to me by Nell Minow. The jumping off point is that there is a new production of Fiddler on the Roof is being staged in New York starting on Halloween for a few weeks, and a new revival is being planned for Broadway next year.
One oddity. It says that Harnick never really replaced his composer partner Jerry Bock after they split during the writing of The Rothschilds (which is true), but it singles out a show he did subsequently write with Joe Raposo, who wrote many of the great songs from Sesame Street. That’s fine, but an odd choice since that it leaves out that he wrote a far more important show with Richard freaking Rodgers! Rex” about Henry VIII -- a show that recently got revived in Toronto with a revised book by the original writer, Sherman Yellen. (Both Harnick and Yellen felt that the original Broadway production was much too large, due mainly because of the requirements of the show's star, Nicol Williamson. But he told me it was always intended as something much more intimate. So, he and Yellen refocused it as originally intended. For years, the Rodgers and Hammerstein organization didn't include the show in their available archives, but after the rewritten revival, they now do.) And post-Bost, he also collaborated on a musical with Michel Legrand, based on A Christmas Carol. Not to mention writing the libretto from an opera, Captain Jinks of the Horse Brigade that still gets performed on occasion.
Unmentioned in the article is that despite breaking up their partnership, Harnick and Bock stayed friends over the years, and even collaborated on a couple of songs for revivals of two of their shows. One was an addition to Fiorello! that gives LaGuardia an important, introspective song for to his character in the second act. (It's more an extended reprise to a number from the first act) And the other was a brand new song for the 2004 revival of the show, that starred Alfred Molina.)
One slight addendum on the story the reporter tells about how Zero Mostel added the famous chanting to the song, "If I Was a Rich Man," from Fiddler on the Roof, after Harnick had attended a Yiddish theater production that inspired him for the song. That's largely true, but what it leaves out that all the "digguh digguh dums" in the song came because Harnick realized he couldn't chant himself, and he wrote those in as a close (and I believe temporary) approximation -- but they stuck.
You can read the whole article here.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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