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

By Philip Lambert | Go to book overview

1
SUAVE YOUNG MEN
CREATIVE STIRRINGS FROM CHILDHOOD
THROUGH COLLEGE

The journeys of Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock from precocious youth to the Broadway stage were hardly different from those of so many other legends of the American musical theater: urban childhoods in nurturing Jewish families, burgeoning creative gifts seeking expressive outlets in diverse musical entertainments, artistic sensibilities molded by exposure to classic music of the concert hall, radio, and theater. But the stories of these two artists in particular display striking similarities. Bock and Harnick were born about four-and-a-half years apart, showed an early interest in both music and poetry, studied music at Midwestern colleges in close geographical proximity, made the move to New York to pursue Broadway dreams around the same time, gained valuable early experience writing theater music for shows at different summer resorts in the mountains not far from the city, and wrote their first book shows for Broadway around the same time. Their paths finally converged in 1956, and they began writing songs together within a year of their first meeting. The history that predates their partnership almost makes the result seem predestined, a story not of unlikely coincidences but of parallel teleologies.


SHELDON HARNICK: MUSICAL POET

From the moment of his birth, in Chicago on April 30, 1924, Sheldon Harnick was surrounded by performance and creative expression. His father, who maintained a dental practice in the Portage Park section of the city, had a reputation among friends and family as a parlor comic, and his mother wrote light verse to celebrate or commemorate special occasions.1 His uncle, Milton Kanter, was involved with The Mummers, a group hoping to accomplish in Chicago what the Group Theater had achieved in New York—staging

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