Magazine article American Theatre

The Lyricist Nobody Knows

Magazine article American Theatre

The Lyricist Nobody Knows

Article excerpt

The forgotten pioneer John Latouche is rediscovered

In the 1954 musical The Golden Apple, lyricist John Latouche wrote about being "doomed, doomed, doomed to disappear without a trace." He might have been describing his own future. Latouche died in 1956 at age 41--under mysterious circumstances--and was all but forgotten within a few years. While anybody able to distinguish between a cast album and a casting agent is able to peg Oscar Hammerstein or Lorenz Hart, only the most diehard musical theatre fans remember the man whom composed Ned Rorem has called a "preface to Sondheim."

Yet in his short life, Latouche contributed to some of the most diverse and innovative musicals of his era. Eddie Cantor, Ethel Waters, Zero Mostel, Carol Channing--all appeared in John Latouche shows. The wordsmith's only real hit, Cabin in the Sky (1940), with music by Vernon Duke, attempted to integrate story and song three yeas before Rodgers and Hammerstein's goundbreaking Oklahoma! Beggar's Holiday of 1946 teamed Latouche with Duke Ellington for an updating of John Gay's Beggar's Opera and featured an interracial cast--a revolutionary concept at that time. The Golden Apple (1954)--which reset the Iliad and the Odyssey in Washington State in the early 1990s--was basically a through-sung pop opera (with music by Jerome Moross) that perfigured the later successes of Andrew Lloyd Webber. Latouche was working on the lyrics for which might have been his break-through show--Leonard Bernstein's Candide--at the time of his death, and it took at least three writers (Richard Wilbur, Lillian Hellman and Dorothy Pa rker, no less) to finish the job.

There are no full-length biographies of Latouche, and few of the scores he worked on were commercially recorded. So Erick Haagensen had plenty of challenges when he set about to devise Taking a Chance on Love, a musicial revue that tells Latouche's life story and reintroduces the public to his songs. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.