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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

[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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(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 ...