Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.
Frank Loesser 1910-1969 was the composer/lyricist who wrote Guys and Dolls, How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and The Most Happy Fella, garnering Tony Awards for the first two, the Pulitzer Prize and a Grammy for the recording of the second, and multiple nominations for the third. Writing innumerable songs for the hit parade and film, he won The Academy Award in 1949 for “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” Susan Loesser tells us her father disdained awards – but kept them.
Loesser apparently got little support from a strict mother and constant criticism from his half-brother. His father, a classical piano teacher, never taught his son. Frank played by ear. Acceptance was a lifetime issue. As a boy, he was “a troublemaker…I think he went in the direction he did partly as rebellion,” Susan tells us. Though Loesser had to go to work when his father died, the young man turned as soon as possible to Tin Pan Alley where he got paid $100 a week for all the songs he could come up with. At this point he was just writing lyrics.
Offered work in Hollywood, his weekly salary rose to $200, but the author retained no rights to over 100 songs written for films. Here he worked with a number of lyricists including Burton Lane, “I Hear Music,” Friedrich Hollander, “See What the Boys in the Back Room Will Have,” and Hoagy Carmichael, “Heart and Soul” and “Two Sleepy People.” Granat’s graceful, soft-shoe rendition of the last swings like a southern hammock.
Susan remembers her father’s peculiar work habits as sleeping three to four hours, rising at 5 a.m, doing a little writing, having a martini at 11 a.m., doing a little writing, perhaps taking a nap, and going out at night. Our host performs a lilting “I Don’t Want to Walk Without You” (written with Jule Styne), feeding us the lyrics. There are always sing-along opportunities at a Granat event. “I’ll be taking this group on the road,” he quips.
Loesser apparently lived by two professional rules: Loud is Good and I write the song, don’t change it. This caused quite an altercation on the set of Guys and Dolls when the author tried to instruct Sinatra how to phrase his work.
World War II Songs included “They’re Either Too Yong or Too Old” and “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition.” With the latter, Loesser began writing his own music. The period also produced “Spring Will Be A Little Late This Year” which Granat renders wistful and wounded with eloquent retards. “His lyrics have a sense of the way people really talk,” our host comments. David Lahm’s piano accompaniment is lovely.
“What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” was set in a film during Spring. Susan tells us her father hated its always being performed during the holidays with no awareness/appreciation of original intention. Raised in a Los Angeles home filled with celebrities, “Until we moved to New York, I thought when you grew up you became famous.”
Now a commonly used colloquial, “Slow Boat to China” was a big success for the writer. Granat sings, we join.”Sing Out!” he encourages. The terrific, contrapuntal duet “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” was created to give Mr. and Mrs. Loesser party material to perform together. When Loesser sold “their song” his wife was very upset.
“Where’s Charlie? , the author’s first Broadway show, featured Ray Bolger “in full female regalia.” Granat (and co.) performs a charming “Once In Love with Amy.” One night Bolger forgot the lyrics. In the audience, producer Cy Feuer’s young son rose and supplied what was missing. Someone suggested the crowd sing along and it became a tradition, wildly popularizing the number. A cottony “I’ve Never Been In Love Before” follows. Small sighs are emitted among us.
“My mother, Lynn, co-produced The Most Happy Fella and was very involved in casting. She went looking for Rosabella, found Jo Sullivan, and said to my father, go hear her sing. You’ll love her. And he did.” Sullivan became both the show’s lead and Loesser’s second wife.
“Somebody Somewhere” (…wants me and needs me…) is stirring and resonant. Susan Loesser seems to look inward briefly before turning to Granat with a small smile. This number particularly touches her. The show was especially important to Loesser because his brother praised it. Everyone seems to know the lyrics to the jaunty “Standing On the Corner.”
The issue with How To Success In Business… was Rudy Vallee who felt he was too big a star to take direction. “I’ve spent a lifetime introducing songs my way…” Vallee so provoked Loesser that the writer quit and stormed off. “It took Feuer five telegrams to get him back,” Susan relates. Loesser wrote that his producer should have hit the egotistical film actor. The last telegram read: Come back! I’ll hit him. Granat cheerily percolates with “I Believe In You.”
Loesser’s last efforts were unsuccessful. Changing musical tastes in the 60s and 70s made him feel both lost and betrayed by Broadway. He set up the licensing organization Music Theater International and mentored upcoming talent. The author died of lung cancer at the young age of 59 leaving a legacy that remains robust today.
Another enjoyable and informative afternoon event with Harvey Granat.
Photos of Frank Loesser Used by Permission of Frank Loesser Enterprises Opening photo: Harvey Granat, Susan Loesser, David Lahm courtesy of the event
Songs & Stories With Harvey Granat- On Frank Loesser Special Guest, Loesser’s Daughter and Biographer, Susan Loesser David Lahm-Piano 92 Street Y 92nd Street at Lexington Avenue NEXT: On Jule Styne with Special Guest Rex Reed – November 10 On Burt Bacharach with Special Guest Will Friedwald – December 8
Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart were introduced as Columbia University students in 1919. Their first published collaboration, “Any Old Place with You,” contained such immortal lines as I’m gonna corner ya in California. Broadway’s The Garrick Gaieties a mere six years later, yielded the hit song “Manhattan,” which propelled these young men to a joint career that produced 500 songs and 28 stage musicals before Hart’s untimely death in 1943.
Raconteur/ Vocalist Harvey Granat takes particular pleasure in this show of iconic, often romantic material that must be a pleasure to sing. His special guest is Hart’s nephew, Larry Hart, whose father Teddy was a musical theater actor and whose mother Dorothy wrote Thou Swell, Thou Witty–The Life and Lyrics of Lorenz Hart. Mr. Hart flew from Washington, D.C. for today’s event “to support The American Songbook.” Symbiotic pianist David Lahm, Granat’s Sancho Panza, again accompanies on piano.
Encouraging his audience to sing along, our host opens with a sentimental “Manhattan.” The savvy crowd joins in on this and other songs without a lyric sheet in sight. Two from A Connecticut Yankee, for which Hart secured a free (?!) six month option from the Twain estate, follow: the jaunty “Thou Swell” and a long-lined, plaintive “My Heart Stood Still,” during which I observe music course through Granat as his shoulders rise with octaves.
The latter song Hart concurs, was inspired by a wild Paris taxi ride, after which one of the shaken passengers commented, “I think my heart stood still.” Rodgers and Hart looked at one another in recognition. Shortly thereafter, the composer brought a composition to his partner saying, “I’ve got the music.” “To what?” Hart replied, having completely forgotten. (Music came first with these two.)
Spring is Here was both an unsuccessful show that nonetheless generated Rodgers favorite song “With a Song in My Heart,” and the title of a later number written for a different musical. Granat’s tender reverie and Lahm’s delicate piano do it justice. Also badly reviewed, Higher and Higher, with young Vera Ellen and June Allyson in the chorus, was the source of “It Never Entered My Mind,” a wistful lament in our host’s capable hands. If you ever meet Harvey Granat, ask him to tell you the story of the show’s trained seal.
We hear a waltzy “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World” and the exquisite “My Romance.” “I love this one,” an audience member inadvertently comments aloud. “Then, I’ll do it for you,” the vocalist warmly responds. It drifts down like feathers. Both of these feature in Billy Rose’s Jumbo which filled 5,000 Hippodrome seats in 1935.
From Babes in Arms, Granat sings “I Wish I Was in Love Again” and “My Funny Valentine.” Midday at the 92nd Street Y and women are quietly swooning. Are you aware that the lead character’s name was Valentine?! Also from that musical, “Where or When,” was the first song written about déjà vu. Rodgers’ autobiography notes that psychiatrists wrote to say they used the number in therapy.
General reaction to the idea of Pal Joey, whose eloquent book was by John O’Hara, was that no one would come to see a show about a heel. “How can you draw sweet water from a foul well?” (New York Times critic, Brooks Atkinson) The show’s star, Gene Kelly, inadvertently paved the way for heels like those created by Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II as well as those in Guys and Dolls.
When Atkinson reviewed the revival, he gave it a rave, not the least because of Elaine Stritch’s ersatz striptease “Zip.” The room sings “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered” with Granat feeding us the lyrics. “Come on now, big ending!” We comply.
“Your uncle was the most confessional of theater lyricists. He could wax beautifully poetic about love, yet it escaped him,” Granat remarks turning to Larry Hart. Lorenz Hart, his genial nephew tells us, was deeply insecure about his height and convinced he was ugly. The more depressed he became, the more he drank.
When several women turned down his proposals of marriage, Hart assumed it was because of his appearance, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. He was loved, we’re told, but none of the women could deal with his alcoholism. When the lyricist died at age 48, we lost decades of great songs to come.
This afternoon ends with a medley including such as “Everything I’ve Got Belongs to You,” There’s a Small Hotel,” and “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was.” Granat’s respect for and awareness of lyrics, his easy style, and that mellow voice captivate. We’ll turn Manhattan into an isle of joy…
Harvey Granat: The Music of Rodgers & Hart Harvey Granat, Vocals and Stories David Lahm-Piano Special Guest- Larry Hart (nephew of Lorenz Hart) The 92Street Y 92nd Street at Lexington Avenue April 7, 2016 NEXT: Thursday May 5: The Music of Harold Arlen with Special Guest Rex Reed
This 1960 musical which astonishingly ran a year, featured then popular Nancy Walker and Phil Silvers. Damon Runyonish without the swell songs and nifty book of 1950’s Guys and Dolls, the show must’ve been a vehicle for its stars. To my mind, it contains one timeless ballad- “Make Someone Happy,” two somewhat amusing girl group songs- “All You Need is A Quarter” and the quirky “What’s New at the Zoo,” one successful, tongue-in-cheek number “It’s Legitimate,” and one comic (musical) soliloquy “The Late, Late Show.” Otherwise material is tuneless and verbose. The game company does manage to deliver some entertainment, however.
Whitney Meyer, Beth DeMichele, Anna Bucci; Daniel Marcus
Briefly, Hubie Cram (the Nathan Lane-ish Patrick John Moran) is a losing dreamer and small time con man looking for the big score. His loving wife, Kay, (Laura Daniel) wants him to take a job in her father’s dry cleaning business, but, patience wearing thin, sticks by him nonetheless. Hubie fixes on the idea of cornering the jukebox market and enlists former gangster comrades, Fitzo (Daniel Marcus), Brains (Roger Rifkin) and Skin (Michael Scott.) His intentions are legitimate, theirs reflexively shady. At the same time, he discovers singing waitress Tilda (Beth DeMichele) and starts recording her.
Beth DeMichele and Patrick John Moran; Tyler Milliron and Beth DeMichele
The jukebox business is a failure, but Tilda’s a success. When she falls in love at first sight with music industry competitor, John Henry Wheeler (Tyler Milliron), the hoodlums are sure their golden goose will leave and plan on violent measures. Before this can happen, everyone is pulled into a Washington DC court for strong-arming practices. It’s Hubie’s first experience in the spotlight and, despite threat of incarceration, he loves it. (Moran’s face is a pitch perfect reflection.) Needless to say, everything turns out fine.
Patrick John Moran and Laura Daniel
Patrick John Moran (Hubie) deserves better material. There’s a sweetness about his ineptitude and frustration. The actor has good comic timing and delivers solid vocals. Were direction lighter, he’d surely be funnier as well.
Laura Daniel is credibly working class, long suffering and devoted. Adding some specific physicality to her character would help define Kay.
The best voice on the stage belongs to Beth DeMichele (Tilda), who is also an appealingly natural actress. If Tyler Milliron would take his resonant vocals down a notch, the two would mesh nicely.
Of the gangsters, Daniel Marcus’ Fitzo stands out. His accent is grand. Marcus moves heavier than he is, reacting with habitual speed and attitude that illuminates the crook.
Director/Choreographer Donald Brenner’s high spots are two terrific girl group numbers with very cool synchronized movement. He should do a fifties show.
Photos by Michael Portantiere Opening: Laura Daniel and Patrick John Moran Whitney Meyer, Beth DeMichele, Anna Bucci; Daniel Marcus Beth DeMichele and Patrick John Moran; Tyler Milliron and Beth DeMichele Patrick John Moran and Laura Daniel
Musicals Tonight! presents Do Re Mi
Libretto- Garson Kanin; Music- Jule Style; Lyrics-Betty Comden and Adolph Green
This Production Directed and Choreographed by Donald Brenner
Music Director/Vocal Arranger- David B. Bishop
The Lion Theatre
410 West 42nd Street
Through April 3, 2016
Tickets at Telecharge or The Lion Theatre Box Office
NEXT April 5-17 : Wonderful Town