To Broadway, to Life! The Musical Theater of Bock and Harnick

To Broadway, to Life! The Musical Theater of Bock and Harnick

To Broadway, to Life! The Musical Theater of Bock and Harnick

To Broadway, to Life! The Musical Theater of Bock and Harnick

Synopsis

In fourteen years of collaboration, composer Jerry Bock and lyricist Sheldon Harnick wrote seven of Broadway's most beloved and memorable musicals together, most famously Fiddler on the Roof (1964), but also the enduring audience favorite She Loves Me (1963), and the Pulitzer-Prize-winning Fiorello! (1959). With their charm, humor, and boundless musical invention, their musicals have won eighteen Tony Awards and continue to capture the imaginations of millions around the world. To Broadway, To Life!: The Musical Theater of Bock and Harnick is the first complete book about these creative figures, one of Broadway's most important songwriting teams. Drawing from extensive archival sources, and from personal interviews and communications with Bock and Harnick themselves and their most important collaborators, author Philip Lambert explores the essence of a Bock-Harnick show - how it is put together, and what makes it work. The book includes discussion of songs such as "Sunrise, Sunset" and "If I Were a Rich Man" that have long been favorites in the public consciousness, and it also explores a vast catalogue of lesser-known songs from their many other shows and works, including a musical puppet show on Broadway, music for the 1964 World's Fair, and a made-for-television musical. Here too is the first look at the little-known youthful professional beginnings of Bock and Harnick in revues and television shows and summer retreats in the 1950s, and the careers they have forgedfor themselves with new collaborators in the decades since their partnership dissolved in 1970. The musicals of Bock and Harnick came at a transitional time in Broadway history, when the traditions of Rodgers and Hammerstein were starting to give way to the concept musical, the rock musical, and eventually the mega-musical. To Broadway, To Life! combines exhaustive research, close musical investigation, and interpretive critical analysis to place Bock and Harnick in the context of these times,and helps establish their place in the history of the American musical theater.

Excerpt

On only their second try Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick in 1959 created the music and words, respectively, of a captivating musical based on the early political career of Fiorello La Guardia, the beloved Mayor of New York City from 1934–1945 from his days as a congressman during World World I to the eve of his election as Mayor (and decades prior to the renaming of a New York airport in his honor). Fiorello!, directed by George Abbott, ensured its historic stature as the recipient of the third Pulitzer Prize for Drama (following Of Thee I Sing and South Pacific) and the first of only three winners of Broadway’s Triple Crown (the Pulitzer, Tony, and New York Drama Critics Circle awards), a feat later duplicated only by How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying and Rent. After the death of Hammerstein and end of the Lerner and Loewe partnership, both in 1960, Bock and Harnick, the last major new musical team to enter the Rodgers and Hammerstein era, were the rising creative stars of Broadway’s firmament.

Thirty-five years after it took home the crown jewels, Fiorello! gained renewed historical distinction in 1994 when it inaugurated an exciting new series devoted to the presentation of worthy but neglected shows, “Encores! Great American Musicals in Concert.” In addition to launching the career of Tom Bosley, much later the avuncular co-star of the television sitcom Happy Days, the well-crafted and imaginative Fiorello! contributed two timelessly biting and funny satiric political songs, “The Little Tin Box” and “Politics and Poker.” For most of the latter song, which my cousin can still recite reliably from memory after more than fifty years, Harnick’s lyric and Bock’s Bowery waltz treat these two high-stakes games as running “neck and neck,” before declaring the former vice as the more predictable “because usually you can stack the deck.” In 2000 and 2005, respectively, two other worthwhile if uneven Bock and Harnick shows Tenderloin (1960) and The Apple Tree (1966), the latter starring Kristin Chenoweth, were similarly honored by “Encores!,” the latter performance leading to a brief Broadway revival again featuring Chenoweth.

And then came Fiddler on the Roof in 1964, almost exactly midway between Fiorello! and Bock and Harnick’s final show as a team, The Rothschilds in 1970. As many reading this foreword doubtless already know, Fiddler was and remains an iconic collaboration with choreographer and director Jerome Robbins, whose unwavering insistence on asking “what is the show about?”

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