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Gillian M. Rodger

(b London, England, Feb 1834; d New York, NY, April 11, 1905). American composer, theater orchestra director, and arranger. Born in London’s East End, Braham’s musical education was gained largely through his early education at the British Union School. He initially played the harp, but switched to the violin and became a skilled performer by the time he was 18. Rather than embarking on a career as a professional musician, Braham became a brass turner, making tubing for brass instruments, and supplemented his income by performing in theatrical orchestras in the evenings. In 1856, in the wake of a cholera epidemic that took his mother’s life, he emigrated to New York, where he quickly found employment in theater orchestras. By 1857 he was a regular member of the orchestra attached to Matt Peel’s Campbell Minstrels, and remained with this company, despite personnel conflicts and the reforming of the troupe under a modified name, until ...

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Gerald Bordman

revised by Jonas Westover

(b New York, NY, Sept 8, 1896; d New York, NY, July 30, 1983). American lyricist and librettist. He studied at Columbia University, where he was a contemporary of Lorenz Hart and Oscar Hammerstein II, and served in the US Navy before becoming director of publicity and advertising in 1919 for the Goldwyn Pictures Corporation (from 1924 known as Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer or MGM). He wrote verse in his spare time, and was asked by Jerome Kern to supply the lyrics for Dear Sir (1924). He also worked with Vernon Duke, Jimmy McHugh, and Ralph Rainger. But he is best remembered for the numerous songs he wrote in collaboration with arthur Schwartz , beginning in 1929 with the revue The Little Show (with “I guess I’ll have to change my plan”). Other collaborations with Schwartz include Three’s a Crowd (1930) and The Band Wagon (1931, containing the hit “Dancing in the Dark”). Their professional relationship extended over a period of more than 30 years to the production of the musical ...

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Ellen Marie Peck

(b New York, NY, Jan 28, 1880; d New York, Jan 4, 1928). American lyricist, librettist, and actress. Born into a theatrical family, she spent her entire life in the theater. A meticulous actress, Donnelly was particularly known for her ability to interpret a role with depth and sensitivity at a rather young age, as she demonstrated with title roles in Candida (1903) and Madame X (1909). However, chronic illness and years of touring took an early toll on Donnelly, forcing her to transition to a writing career in her late 30s. In 1916 Donnelly penned the libretto for an Americanized German operetta, Flora Bella. She soon teamed up with composer sigmund Romberg , with whom she wrote some of the most successful operettas of the 1920s. Donnelly and Romberg enjoyed a close friendship and a symbiotic collaborative process, which lay behind the overwhelming success of ...

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James Leve

(b New York, NY, c8 April 1928–33; d New York, NY, Sept 11, 2004). American lyricist. He received a BA from New York University and a master’s degree in English literature from Columbia University. In the 1950s he collaborated with Phil Springer and placed several song lyrics with record companies in the Brill Building. He also collaborated with Paul Klein on three musicals, one of which, Morning Sun, appeared Off-Broadway in 1963. Ebb’s first Broadway experience was as a contributor to the 1960 revue From A to Z.

He is best known for his work with john Kander , with whom he started working in 1962. Within months they had their first hit, “My Coloring Book,” which garnered them a Grammy nomination. Their collaboration lasted more than four decades and resulted in 13 Broadway musicals, including two produced after Ebb’s death. Their first, Flora, the Red Menace (...

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Ronald J. Zank

(b Brooklyn, NY, June 6, 1954). American performer, playwright and librettist. Fierstein grew up in New York and worked as an actor; he also pursued his interest in painting and received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. He was both lead actor and playwright for Torch Song Trilogy, which originated off-off Broadway before transferring to off-Broadway and finally to Broadway (1982). He wrote the libretto for the musical adaptation of the French play and film La Cage Aux Folles (1983, music and lyrics by Jerry Herman), about a gay couple dealing with their son’s marriage into a conservative family. Fierstein also crafted the book for the short-lived Legs Diamond, a production that featured the songs and performance of Peter Allen as the title gangster. As a performer Fierstein originated the role of plus-sized mother Edna Turnblad in the musical ...

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Judith A. Sebesta

(Simon )

(b Chicago, IL, Feb 25, 1928; d Beverly Hills, CA, Sept 11, 2009). American librettist. He began his prolific and diverse career at 16 writing for radio. After moving to television in the 1950s, he collaborated with such well-known early television actors as Sid Caesar and Mel Brooks. His career in that medium peaked with M*A*S*H, for which he wrote the pilot and subsequently wrote, produced, and occasionally directed the hit series. His screenwriting credits include Tootsie (1982) and Oh, God! (1977), for which he was nominated for an Oscar. His librettos for A Funny Thing Happened on to the Way to the Forum (1962) and City of Angels (1989) both won Tony Awards. After Gelbart’s death from cancer in 2009, Jack Lemmon, Carl Reiner, and Woody Allen all named him the best American comedy writer they had ever known....

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(b New York, NY, Dec 2, 1914; d New York, NY, Oct 24, 2002). American lyricist, librettist, and actor. He sustained a lifelong writing partnership with Betty Comden. Among their joint works were the musicals Wonderful Town (1953) and Bells Are Ringing (1956), and the film script ...

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Scott Warfield

(b New York, NY, Dec 16, 1964). American composer, lyricist, and orchestrator. The son and grandson, respectively, of Broadway composers mary Rodgers and richard Rodgers , Guettel first sang professionally as a boy soloist with the New York Metropolitan Opera and other companies. He was educated at Phillips Exeter Academy, the Interlochen Center for the Arts, and Yale University, from which he graduated in 1987. Early in his adult career, Guettel assisted conductor John Mauceri in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Song and Dance, composed music for the off-Broadway show Love and Anger, and also performed as a bassist and singer. His first compositions include songs, symphonic works, and an unperformed one-act opera.

Guettel’s initial success was the off-Broadway production Floyd Collins, which won him and book author Tina Landau the 1996 Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Musical. The show also earned Guettel and his orchestrator Bruce Coughlin that year’s Obie Award for Music. It is based on the ...

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Gerald Bordman

revised by Jonas Westover

(Abels )

(b Salt Lake City, UT, Aug 18, 1873; d New York, NY, Jan 24, 1963). American librettist and lyricist. He was educated at Knox College, then taught English for six years at Whitman College before going to New York for further study at Columbia University. In 1902 he became a newspaper journalist and the following year a copywriter for an advertising agency. His friendship with the composer Karl Hoschna led him to try his hand at writing musicals, and their collaboration Three Twins (1908, including the song “Cuddle Up a Little Closer, Lovey Mine”) was a great success. Harbach soon became a prolific writer; he produced over 40 works for Broadway and also wrote occasionally for films. After Hoschna’s death in 1911 he entered into a successful partnership with Rudolf Friml. Many of his best lyrics and librettos, however, were written after 1920 in collaboration with his younger protégé Oscar Hammerstein II. Among his best-known songs are “Rose-Marie” and “Indian Love Call” (...

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Jessica Hillman

(b Chicago, IL, April 30, 1924). American lyricist. After serving in the Army, he attended Northwestern University, where he studied violin and received a Bachelor of Music degree. His first song on Broadway, for which he wrote both the music and the lyrics, appeared in New Faces of 1952. After teaming with composer Jerry Bock on The Body Beautiful (1958), Harnick concentrated on lyrics only for a string of highly successful Broadway musicals featuring Bock’s tuneful music and Harnick’s character-driven lyrics. The pair gained acclaim when Fiorello (1959), about the charismatic titular mayor of New York, won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Their most acclaimed collaboration, Fiddler on the Roof (1964), often considered the last of the “Golden Age” musicals, for a time became the longest running musical on Broadway before it closed in 1972. Other works include Tenderloin (1960), ...

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Jonas Westover

(b New York, NY, Nov 28, 1887; d New York, NY, May 13, 1924). American composer. He was a highly regarded composer of Broadway musicals—especially revues—at the turn of the 20 century. He attended the City University of New York and studied piano at the Stern Conservatory in Berlin during his final year. After his return to New York in 1906, Hirsch found employment as a pianist for several music publishers. He composed original music for Lew Dockstader’s Minstrels but soon had songs interpolated into several shows produced by the Shuberts, including The Gay White Way (1907) and Up and Down Broadway (1910). This relationship was essential to Hirsch’s career, for the Shuberts eventually hired him as a staff composer. He wrote his first full score for them, He Came from Milwaukee, in 1910. The following year, several of his songs were included in ...

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Jonas Westover

[Elizabeth Holzman ]

(b Cincinnati, OH, May 23, 1904; d Stamford, CT, June 18, 1971). American actress, singer, composer, and lyricist. Holman completed her college education before moving to New York where she began her theatrical career in 1924. Encouraged by the critic Channing Pollock, she appeared in revues, including the Garrick Gaieties (1925) and Merry-Go-Round (1927). Her most successful performance came in 1929 with The Little Show, where she introduced the song “Moanin’ Low” (by Ralph Rainger). This blues number became her signature tune, although she had another hit in Three’s a Crowd (1930) with “Body and Soul” (Heyman, Sour/Green). She appeared in other revues during the 1930s, including Revenge with Music (1934), and starred in Cole Porter’s You Never Know (1938). Holman produced her own one-woman show, Blues, Ballads, and Sin-Songs, in 1954. She took this opportunity to showcase her own compositions, including “Good Morning Blues” and “House of the Rising Sun.” Her music was deeply rooted in African American idioms, a connection she celebrated through her support of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s. Holman’s performances are preserved on 25 sides recorded for Brunswick from ...

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Gillian M. Rodger

(Jane )

(b Columbus, OH, March 16, 1889; d Beverly Hills, CA, Feb 26, 1956). American actress, singer, songwriter, and entertainer. Her stage career began when she was just a child and was promoted tirelessly by her mother, Jennie Cockrell Bierbower, a woman whose own theatrical aspirations had been thwarted. Janis’s first roles on the stage were with the Ohio Valentine Stock Company in 1897. Her career in vaudeville lasted into the 1920s, and the format of her act varied little. She opened with a song and then moved through imitations of popular stars of the period; her imitations varied from year to year and included a wide range of celebrities including Weber and Fields, Lillian Russell, Pat Rooney, Anna Held, Ethel Barrymore, Alla Nazimova, Fanny Brice, and George M. Cohan. By the 1920s she had begun to move into musical comedy and revue.

Janis was a tireless supporter of the troops during World War I and traveled to France and England to entertain them. She found equal popularity with English and French audiences. After her mother’s death in ...

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(b Littlefield, TX, Feb 17, 1928). American lyricist and composer. He has often worked with the composer harvey Schmidt , and the duo bear the distinction of writing The Fantasticks, which in the early 2010s was the longest-running off-Broadway musical of all time. It opened on 3 May 1960 and ran 17,162 performances before closing on 13 January 2002. It received a Special Tony Award in 1992 for its staying power and status as a musical theater icon, and a film version was released in 1995. Jones and Schmidt had met at the University of Texas, Austin, and collaborated on a few projects, but were mired in a complicated, overly large project based on an Edmond Rostand play (a spoof of Romeo and Juliet) when they got the offer to create the musical one-act that became their signature piece. They kept their play’s basic concept but jettisoned all of their material except the song “Try to Remember,” and the result was ...

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Peter Purin

(b Chautauqua, NY, July 24, 1962). American composer and lyricist. He developed an interest in composing musical theater from a very young age. When he could not afford to attend the Juilliard School as a teenager, he became an accompanist at SUNY Fredonia. He then made his way to New York City in 1980 as a gigging pianist. ASCAP and BMI workshops for musical theater writing provided opportunities to hone his craft. His first full-length musical, Ballad of the Sad Café (1984), went unproduced. He began writing one-act musicals, including Agnes and Eulogy for Mister Hamm, which helped him secure the Richard Rodgers Development Award. Four of his one-act musicals were produced by Playwrights Horizon in 1991. There he met Ira Weitzman, who helped him obtain funding to continue writing. In the early 1990s, he did libretto work for opera composers Robert Moranon and Anthony Davis. His own through-composed ...

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Dominic McHugh

[Levy ]

(b New York, NY, Feb 2, 1912; d New York, NY, Jan 5, 1997). American musical theater and film composer. After studying the piano as a child, Lane started to write for his school band. At age 14, he was commissioned to compose for an unproduced version of the off-Broadway revue, Greenwich Village Follies. While still in his teens, he joined the Remick Music Company as a song plugger and was encouraged by the Gershwins. He wrote songs with Howard Dietz for the revue Three’s a Crowd (1930), and one with Harold Adamson for The Third Little Show (1931). He then joined forces with Adamson to compose the score for Earl Carroll’s Vanities of 1931.

With the onset of the Great Depression, Lane moved to Hollywood and composed for films, often with Adamson. With Frank Loesser he wrote “The lady’s in love with you” (...

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Elizabeth L. Wollman

(b White Plains, NY, Feb 4, 1960; d New York, NY, Jan 25, 1996). American composer, lyricist, and playwright. Larson attended Adelphi University, where he earned a BFA in 1982. Influenced by rock and popular musicians such as the Beatles, Billy Joel, Elton John, Prince, and the Police, he also loved musicals, and held Stephen Sondheim, with whom he frequently corresponded, in particularly high esteem. After moving to Manhattan, Larson wrote a musical based on 1984. When the Orwell estate refused to grant him the rights, Larson rewrote the piece as Superbia. The work received a staged reading at Playwrights Horizons in 1988 and was performed in concert at the Village Gate in 1989. He performed his autobiographical rock monologue Tick, TickBoom! at Second Stage in 1990 and in various Off Broadway locales through the mid-1990s; the show was staged as a three-character musical at the Jane Street Theater in ...

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Paul R. Laird

[Mitchnick, Irwin ]

(b Brooklyn, NY, Jan 30, 1928). American composer, producer, and director. After earning a BA and MA from the Yale School, where he studied with paul Hindemith , he worked as a jazz musician and from 1954 wrote music for television and commercial jingles, such as “Nobody doesn’t Like Sara Lee.” In 1957 Leigh formed the company Music Makers as a focus for these efforts. He wrote incidental music for two plays, Too Good to be True (1963) and Never Live over a Pretzel Factory (1964), and then composed with the lyricist Joe Darion the score for the Broadway hit Man of La Mancha (1965). Their Tony Award-winning score includes spirited “Spanish” gestures and songs that effectively describe characters and situations. The show itself, which won a Tony Award for Best Musical, ran 2328 performances and has remained popular. Leigh also wrote the scores for ...