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.
Jule Styne (Julius Kerwin Stein 1905-1994) was a British American songwriter who contributed to over 1500 published songs (“All of which we’re going to do for you today,” Harvey Granat quips) and 25 Broadway shows. He earned 10 Academy Award nominations, winning one. Styne was a 10 year-old prodigy, a favorite pianist at Chicago mob clubs, played in a band, and acted as vocal coach at Twentieth Century Fox. Sammy Cahn was his first writing partner.
Granat sings their first hit, 1944’s “I Walk Alone” in prime, lilting balladeer mode. “They ask me why” he says, and I tell them I’d rather/There are dreams I must gather…he croons, making the song intimate. Success kept coming for the duo. “Good songs historically rise out of bleak times,” Reed comments referring to The Depression and WWII.“Because people have to have a way to express hope…I have a feeling that in the next four years, we might get some nice songs.”
We hear “Time After Time” (from It Happened in Brooklyn) with mid-tempo, jazz colored piano and then sing along with 1945’s “Let It Snow,” written during a Los Angeles heat wave. An inordinate number of the large audience know every word.
Reed shares the story of Doris Mary Ann Kappelhoff’s discovery: Just divorced, the young woman was in Los Angeles crying her eyes out, living in a trailer park with her son, trying unsuccessfully to break into radio. She had borrowed money to take a bus back East when her agent invited her to a party at Jule Styne’s suggesting “free food.” Resistant, she accompanied him. The host had seen her sing at a little club in New York and coaxed Doris to perform. A rendition of “Embraceable You” earned her an audition at Warner Brothers.
Unaware that Jack Warner had rejected the aspirant as being “sexless,” she was hired by Director Michael Curtiz to star in Romance on the High Seas with a score by Cahn and Styne. Doris Day became the biggest star in Hollywood. Granat offers her signature number from the film, “It’s Magic.” All I can say is that if he sang it to you, you’d follow him home.
Cahn and Styne were commissioned to write “Three Coins in the Fountain” as a title song for another film. The studio returned their composition demanding a bridge. “I was determined to write the worst bridge ever conceived,” Cahn told Granat many years later. He wrote: Which one will the fountain bless? /Which one will the fountain bless? The song won 1954’s Academy Award. Granat sings like a storyteller. Come to think of it, he kind of tells stories lyrically, like a vocalist.
From the show Hazel Flagg, written with Bob Hilliard, there’s “How Do You Speak to An Angel?”/I’m completely in the dark/When you know you’ve just met an angel/Is there a proper remark?…Lovely. Out of Bells Are Ringing, written with Betty Comden and Adolph Green, we all sing “Just in Time” and “The Party’s Over.” “You’re lucky if you get one hit song in a show, he’d get four or five,” Reed remarks appreciatively. “Long Before I Knew You” arrives with yearning salved by love.
When Stephen Sondheim was brought onto the team developing Gypsy, he had just written the lyrics for West Side Story and made it clear that this time he wanted to author both music and lyrics. Ethel Merman, however, demanded the bankable Styne. Sondheim would’ve backed out had not his mentor Oscar Hammerstein II recommended he do the musical. “June Havoc (Baby June) always said, she was not my mother,” Reed asserts. “There was a lot of backstage tension and resentment. When Merman was on stage, she played a completely different show.” Both men agree it’s an extraordinary piece. Two numbers from the classic come next.
In the course of this afternoon’s entertainment, Reed himself performs two songs. “The trick is to choose ones nobody knows so they have nothing with which to compare.” His version of “Blame My Absent Minded Heart” (from It’s a Great Feeling) is gentle and cottony with the word “heart” palpably exhaled. “You Love Me” (from West Point Story) is sincere, if less memorable. The writer tells a great story, remembers endless facts and seems to have known everybody worth knowing. He recalls Styne as always cheerful and unusually ready to play at his own terrific dinner parties.
Though Do, Re, Me, (also with Comden & Green) had little staying power, it gave birth to the iconic “Make Someone Happy” which today emerges with music in which you want to walk barefoot. “Ain’t that true?” whispers Granat. We learn that the title role in Funny Girl (written with Bob Hilliard) was offered to and turned down by both Mary Martin and Carol Burnett, who felt Fannie Brice should be played by a Jewish woman. It was, of course by the young Barbra Streisand whose stardom was cemented. The room sings “People.” Granat is low key, but insistent, his hand balling into a fist on needing other children.
At the top of the event, in light of the election, Harvey Grant promised a stress-free hour plus. And so it was. We all left smiling.
Other notable Styne shows include: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Sugar (based on the film Some Like it Hot), and Hallelujah Baby!
Granat co-produced four-time Academy Award winning songwriter, Sammy Cahn, on Broadway in Words And Music, which had a successful run and toured throughout the US and abroad.
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
In October 1989, Donald Smith’s four year-old Mabel Mercer Foundation held its first annual New York Cabaret Convention. The New York Times headline read: Cabaret Convention Ponders a Disturbing Future. “Is there a place for cabaret in today’s age of mass entertainment? That is the question being pondered this week on the stage of Town Hall…” Stephen Holden. According to Holden’s 1991 coverage of the event, its debut “…attracted an audience of 6,000, and in its wake, Smith said, he received 900 letters about the problems facing the cabaret industry.”
Let us breathe a deep communal sigh and persevere with a modicum of rosey tint on our glasses. Print media, except for the venerable Cabaret Scenes, may refuse to acknowledge us except for an occasional blurb, but the art form continues to exist and evolve.
Small rooms and piano bars pop up replacing storied nightclubs as venues in which performers showcase talent. 54Below has become (Michael) Feinstein’s/54Below, extending programming and attracting fresh audiences. The 92 St. Y’s robust Lyrics and Lyricists series goes on with the organization’s roster adding Harvey Granat’s delightful midday salutes to iconic composers and lyricists. Fairly new on the scene, Pangea delivers striking alternative cabaret. Gianni Valenti (of Birdland) promises an additional locale in 2017. PBS has taken to the front line presenting cabaret on television. The Mabel Mercer Foundation is in its 31st year.
The 27th Annual New York Cabaret Convention runs from Tuesday, October 18 through Friday, October 21 at Jazz At Lincoln Center’s Rose Theater. Artists this year range from 12 year-old Zoe Gellman and 15 year-old Joie Bianco (who KT Sullivan heard this year at Michael Feinstein’s American Songbook Academy Competition – she didn’t win…this time) to the eternally youthful Marilyn Maye. Sullivan is encouraged by all the young aspiring vocalists she’s met and has faith in the art form. “As long as people gather in small places, sometimes with a drink, they’ll want to sit and listen to musical stories- unlike rock and pop and rap.” Artistic Director KT Sullivan
Tuesday October 18: Opening Night Gala – Hosted by KT Sullivan
Featuring, in part, Christina Bianco, Allan Harris, Carole J. Buffard, Eric Yves Garcia
“Opening night is always different because I like to spotlight more new talent and more kinds of music and sounds. There are several artists who have never performed at a Convention. We’ll hear American Songbook, Weimar, Jazz, likely Noel Coward, contemporary writers, and Broadway. We’re even hoping to have a trio song from Hamilton. I try to see every performer live, though I chose one this season on the basis of a terrific video, and then advise on material presented in our show.” KT Sullivan
Wednesday October 19: Saluting Stephen Sondheim- Hosted by Andrea Marcovicci and Jeff Harnar
Featuring, in part, Karen Akers, Sidney Meyer, Steve Ross, Jennifer Sheehan, Celia Berk
“Since its inception the Cabaret Convention has been a chance for performers to shine, and what better way to feature their talents than with the wit and wisdom of Stephen Sondheim! The repertoire is vast and sparkling with humor and tenderness, more than enough familiar songs to please our audience, yet many lesser known songs have found their way into the evening to keep them on their toes. I particularly look forward to my duets with Jeff Harnar which have been the highlight of my hosting duties, so once again we’ll be “Side By Side.” Andrea Marcovicci
“Three years ago I was a performer who felt too intimidated by the Sondheim catalogue to even consider his songs for my performance repertoire. KT Sullivan changed all that when she invited me to do a two-hander Sondheim show with her. As a performer who has always felt most at home in the musical skin of Cole Porter, now in my mid-fifties, I find performing Sondheim’s lyrics gifts me with a similar musical intelligence and wit as Porter’s, but with an unmistakably 21st Century sensibility. For our fifth time out as co-hosts, Andrea Marcovicci and I will present a Sondheim songbook. No hesitation on my part saying yes to that. Jeff Harnar
Thursday October 20: Saluting Sylvia Syms – Hosted by Rex Reed
Featuring, in part, Joyce Breach, Ann Hampton Callaway, Nicolas King, Billy Stritch
Frank Sinatra, her friend and mentor for five decades, called Sylvia Syms “the world’s greatest saloon singer.” The vocalist was perhaps best known for intimacy, unabashed honesty, and the ability to sing a variety of styles while maintaining her signature voice. “When you perform it’s a one-to-one love affair with the people out there. That’s how it has to be.” Sylvia Syms
“Sylvia Syms was beloved by everyone with sensitivity, taste and even the most basic knowledge of the art of the Great American Songbook, so a tribute to her warmth, savvy, sophisticated understanding of a lyric, and the beauty of her deep, throaty voice is long overdue. In addition to her exalted place in the history of song, she was a close personal friend who taught and informed me, enriched my life, and made me laugh, so I convinced myself I was the right person to lead the parade in celebrating her life and extraordinary career. I hope what we have some up with will best represent the supreme legacy of the artistry of Sylvia Syms.” Rex Reed
Friday October 21: Saluting Sheldon Harnick, Charles Strouse – Hosted by Klea Blackhurst
Featuring, in part, Corrina Sowers Adler, Liam Forde, Shana Farr, Todd Murray, Scott Coulter
Sheldon Harnick, author of such as Fiorello and She Loves Me, is having a banner year of national and local recognition with multiple musical revivals in New York. He received the 2016 Drama League Award for Distinguished Achievement in Musical Theater, as well as the 2016 Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theater. Composer Charles Strouse gave us such musicals as Golden Boy, the eternal Annie, Bye Bye Birdie, and Rags. “I never said to myself, How will I ever top this? …I mean, I like things to be a success, but the main thing is to keep working.” Charles Strouse
“As a little girl of four or five, I’d romp around the house belting out up-tempos from Fiddler On the Roof and Applause, Annie and The Apple Tree, among many others from our household collection. Flash forward to the preparations for the final night of the Mabel Mercer Foundation’s 27th New York Cabaret Convention. The focus is on Sheldon Harnick and Charles Strouse, titans from my ongoing record collection. The joy Sheldon’s words have brought into my life cannot be measured or fully understood. To be hosting the event is a thrill and a huge honor.” Klea Blackhurst
This year, the Convention will be preceded by several special events: Will Friedwald presents Cabaret Clips – rarely seen video and film of iconic performers – where does he find these?! at The Laurie Beechman Theater on October 15, 2016
On October 16th, also at the Laurie Beechman, one can be present at the live DVD recording of a show (at last!) by beloved performer (and booker) Sidney Myer “a lovable madcap singer/comedian with an audacious performing style who can touch your heart at the same time.” Steve Ross. People are already clamoring for tickets as the exquisitely wry Meyer performs so rarely these days.
On Sunday October 23rd following the convention, Urban Stages will reprise a special concert encore of the critically acclaimed Mabel Madness about the life of the Foundation’s legendary namesake written and performed by Tony Award Winner Trazana Beverly.
Coming Up: November 2016 KT Sullivan and Natalie Douglas accompanied by pianist Jon Weber will judge a Mabel Mercer Foundation Cabaret Competition in Durango, Colorado for aspiring young singers.
April 2017 The Cabaret Convention returns to Chicago for its fourth gala run in that city after a hiatus. Watch for details on the Foundation web site.
Opening: Jeff Harnar & Andrea Marcovicci – Photo by Stephen Sorokoff
KT Sullivan and Rick Meadows at Town Hall – Photo by Stephen Sorokoff KT Sullivan – Photo by Maryann Lopinto Jeff Harnar & Andrea Marcovicci – Photo by Stephen Sorokoff Rex Reed – Photo courtesy of Mr. Reed Klea Blackhurst- Photo by Bill Westmoreland