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date: 08 April 2020

Hamlisch, Marvin (Frederick)free

  • Geoffrey Block

(b New York, NY, 2 June 1944; d Los Angeles, CA, 6 Aug 2012). Composer. After demonstrating precocious talent, he became the youngest student to attend the Juilliard School of Music, where he studied piano reluctantly from 1951 to 1965; while still there, he worked as a rehearsal pianist for Funny Girl (1964). In 1965 he attained early success as a popular songwriter when two songs he composed with a high school friend, Howard Liebling, “Sunshine, Lollipops, and Rainbows” and “California Nights,” were recorded by Lesley Gore; one other song he composed as a teenager, “Travelin’ Life,” was recorded years later by Liza Minnelli, another high school friend, on her first album. Concurrently with his studies in music at Queens College, from which he graduated in 1967, Hamlisch was employed for two seasons as a vocal arranger and rehearsal pianist for a wide variety of acclaimed performers on The Bell Telephone Hour. An engagement as a pianist at a private party for the producer Sam Spiegel led to The Swimmer (1968), the first of more than three dozen film scores over the next 30 years. A prominent early film success was an Academy Award nomination for “Life Is What you Make It” (lyrics by Johnny Mercer) from Kotch (1971). Three years later Hamlisch gained national celebrity when he became the first film composer to win three Oscars in one year, for both the score and title tune from The Way We Were, and for the adaptation of Scott Joplin's music in The Sting (the year's Best Picture). Among Hamlisch's later film scores, several received nominations for Best Song. These included two songs with the lyricist Carol Bayer Sager, “Nobody Does It Better” from The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) and “Through the Eyes of Love” from Ice Castles (1978); two songs with Alan and Marilyn Bergman, “The Last Time I Felt Like This” from Same Time, Next Year (1978) and “The Girl Who Used to Be Me” from Shirley Valentine (1989); and “Surprise, Surprise” with the lyricist Edward Kleban, newly composed for the 1985 film version of A Chorus Line. He also received another Best Score nomination for Sophie's Choice (1982).

Hamlisch's first Broadway musical, A Chorus Line (1975), a show about the inner lives, dreams, and fears of 17 dancers desperately auditioning for eight spots on a chorus line, was a triumph for the director and choreographer Michael Bennett and a major hit, running for over 6,000 performances. In addition to winning the Tony and New York Drama Critics’ Circle Awards for best musical and Tony Awards for Hamlisch's music and Kleban's lyrics, A Chorus Line was also the first musical in 15 years to be awarded a Pulitzer Prize for Drama. A second international success followed four years later: They’re Playing Our Song, with a book by Neil Simon and a pervasive disco score. The show, which featured only two stars, each however frequently backed by a trio of alter egos, was loosely based on a real-life romance between Hamlisch and Sager. Future musicals achieved neither commercial nor, with isolated exceptions, critical success. Jean Seberg (1983), which depicted the stormy and politically sensitive life of the actress, quickly opened and closed in London. The next musical, Smile (1986), an adaptation of a cult movie about a teenage beauty pageant, with the lyricist Howard Ashman also serving as both the librettist and the director, was quickly deemed a failure and closed after 48 Broadway performances, although it was later praised as “perhaps the most underappreciated musical of the eighties” by Mandelbaum (1991). Hamlisch's second collaboration with Neil Simon, an adaptation of Simon's successful film The Goodbye Girl (1977), also closed after a short Broadway run in 1993 and, after extensive revisions and new lyrics by Don Black, fared even less well in London. Hamlisch's later Broadway work includes the scores to two shows that opened for short runs in 2002, Sweet Smell of Success: the Musical, a musical version of the dark 1957 film classic with lyrics by Craig Carnelia and a book by John Guare, and Nora Ephron's Imaginary Friends, a play with music, also with lyrics by Carnelia. His death occurred during a tryout at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center in Nashville of a musical directed by Jerry Lewis based on the 1963 film The Nutty Professor.

In a style with pronounced, albeit generally scaled-down, rock features, Hamlisch produced both memorable lyrical ballads (“The Way We Were,” “What I Did for Love”) as well as rhythmically driving numbers (“I Hope I Get it,” “They’re Playing Our Song”). Chorus Line in particular demonstrates Hamlisch's ability to evoke a wide variety of dance styles ranging from soft shoe (“I Can Do That”) to the waltz (“At the Ballet”), with musical numbers that present formally complex musical biographical stories and dramas in a varied mixture of song, recitative, speech, and intricate ensembles.



(unless otherwise stated, dates are those of first New York performances; librettists and lyricists are listed in that order in parentheses)

A Chorus Line (J. Kirkwood and N. Dante, E. Kleban), orchd B. Byers, H. Kay, and J. Tunick, Public Theatre, 15 April 1975 [incl. One, What I Did for Love]; film, 1985

They’re Playing Our Song (N. Simon, C. Bayer Sager), orchd R. Burns, R. Hazard, and G. Page, Imperial, 11 Feb 1979 [incl. Fallin’, They’re Playing Our Song]

Jean Seberg (J. Barry, C. Adler), London, National, 15 Nov 1983

Smile (H. Ashman), orchd S. Ramin, Byers, Hazard, and T. Zito, Lunt-Fontanne, 24 Nov 1986 [after film, 1975; incl. Smile, In Our Hands]

The Goodbye Girl (N. Simon, D. Zippel), orchd Byers and Zito, Marquis, 4 March 1993 [after film, 1977; incl. No More]; rev. London, Albery, 1997


(selective list)

The Swimmer (dir. F. Perry and S. Pollack), 1968

The April Fools (dir. S. Rosenberg), 1969

Take the Money and Run (dir. W. Allen), 1969

Flap (dir. C. Reed), 1970

Move (dir. S. Rosenberg), 1970

Bananas (dir. W. Allen), 1971

Kotch (dir. J. Lemmon), 1971

Something Big (dir. A.V. McLaglen), 1971

Fat City (dir. J. Huston), 1972

The War between Men and Women (dir. M. Shavelson), 1972

Save the Tiger (dir. J.G. Avildsen), 1973

The Sting (dir. G.R. Hill), 1973

The Way We Were (dir. S. Pollack), 1973

The Prisoner of Second Avenue (dir. M. Frank), 1975

The Spy Who Loved Me (dir. L. Gilbert), 1977

The Champ (dir. F. Zeffirelli), 1979

Chapter Two (dir. R. Moore), 1979

Same Time, Next Year (dir. R. Mulligan), 1978

Starting Over (dir. A.J. Pakula), 1979

Ordinary People (dir. R. Redford), 1980

Seems Like Old Times (dir. J. Sandrich), 1980

The Fan (dir. E. Bianchi), 1981

Pennies from Heaven (dir. H. Ross), 1981

I Ought to Be in Pictures (dir. H. Ross), 1982

Sophie's Choice (dir. A.J. Pakula), 1982

Romantic Comedy (dir. A. Hiller), 1983

A Chorus Line (dir. R. Attenborough), 1985

Three Men and a Baby (dir. L. Nimoy), 1987

Little Nikita (dir. R. Benjamin), 1988

The Experts (dir. D. Thomas), 1989

The January Man (dir. P. O'Connor), 1989

Shirley Valentine (dir. L. Gilbert), 1989

Frankie and Johnny (dir. G. Marshall), 1991

Missing Pieces (dir. L. Stern), 1992

The Mirror Has Two Faces (dir. B. Streisand), 1996

The Informant! (dir. S. Soderbergh), 2009

Other works


Anatomy of Peace, 1991

Individual songs, incl. Sunshine, Lollipops, and Rainbows, 1965

Break It to Me Gently, 1977

One Song, 1992 [for Olympics, Barcelona]

Good Morning, America [theme song]


  • A. Kasha and J. Hirschhorn: Notes on Broadway: Conversations with the great Songwriters (Chicago, 1985)
  • D.M. Flinn: What they Did for Love: the untold Story behind the Making of “A Chorus Line” (New York, 1989)
  • K. Mandelbaum: A Chorus Line and the Musicals of Michael Bennett (New York, 1989)
  • K. Kelly: One Singular Sensation: the Michael Bennett Story (New York, 1990)
  • J.P. Swain: The Broadway Musical: a critical and musical Survey (New York, 1990)
  • K. Mandelbaum: Not since Carrie: 40 Years of Broadway musical Flops (New York, 1991)
  • M. Hamlisch (with G. Gardner): The Way I Was (New York, 1992) [autobiography]
  • G. Stevens: The Longest Line: Broadway's Most Singular Sensation (New York, 1995)
  • R. Viagas: On the Line: The Creation of “A Chorus Line,” with the Entire Original Cast (Pompton Plains, NJ, 2006)