FLASH SPECIAL: A Marvin Hamlisch Memorial
One of the most revered and recognizable Broadway and Hollywood composers of the last fifty years passed away suddenly at the age of 68 yesterday - Marvin Hamlisch. Today we will celebrate his life with a collection of some of the most memorable and history-making clips culled from his many endeavors over his rich forty-year career.
Carly Simon once comically recounted that when she first met Marvin Hamlisch on the day he played her what would become one of her biggest hits, the theme song for the 1977 James Bond film THE SPY WHO LOVED ME, "Nobody Does It Better", she had also arranged a meeting with a new lawyer and when she answered the door at her home "it was a toss-up" which would arrive first - it turned out to be Hamlisch, yet she didn't realize it until the unassuming figure sat down at the piano and began to play. Such was the relatability and likeability of not only the man, but his music, and, also, that story acts as a reminder of the folksiness for which Hamlisch was known by his many famous friends (Liza Minnelli and Barbra Streisand included) and one of the contributing factors to him becoming not only a respected, admired and highly-awarded composer and conductor, but also a household name along the lines of Leonard Bernstein, Richard Rodgers, Irving Berlin and Cole Porter; which came as a result of his apparent ubiquity in the 1970s, appearing everywhere from THE TONIGHT SHOW to the Academy Awards, Tony Awards, TV specials and beyond. Indeed, the 1970s were definitely Hamlisch's career peak, kicking off the decade in a big way by conducting LIZA WITH A Z, directed by Bob Fosse - the greatest TV concert ever, hands down. Of course, he had contributed solid work on Broadway (FUNNY GIRL, SEESAW) and in Hollywood (THE SWIMMER, TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN) from the age of 19 on when he got his first break after being discovered while playing piano at parties following his Juilliard graduation, but the 1970s were when Hamlisch mastered seemingly all mediums, all at once. Following his success scoring Woody Allen films and many others, arranging countless albums and concerts and capping it off with conducting LIZA WITH A Z, in 1973 Hamlisch quite quickly found Oscar gold with his Scott Joplin score adaptation for THE STING as well as his double-win that same night for original score and song for THE WAY WE WERE - having won three Oscars in one ceremony that evening, Hamlisch later made history again by going on to become only the second individual in history to be a PEGOT recipient (the other being Richard Rodgers); that is, he possessed the Pulitzer Prize, Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony - and, in 1975 he even managed to somehow top his own prior unprecedented success.
Without a doubt, A CHORUS LINE was the musical of the era and it absolutely swept the 1976 Tony Awards, winning Hamlisch Best Original Score as well as Best Musical for the Michael Bennett-directed musical theatre masterpiece. While the 1985 Richard Attenborough-directed film adaptation featured new songs by Hamlisch and Ed Kleban - such as Oscar-nominated "Surprise, Surprise" - the film was a lamentable disappointment for all, though the long, long run and subsequent recent hit revival show that the ultimate backstage musical has legs in more ways than one (and the very same could be said for the addictive EVERY LITTLE STEP documentary he participated in which followed the production; a real treat). Hamlisch continued his chart success in the 1970s, as well - lest we forget he had an early pop hit by writing Lesley Gore's 1965 smash "Sunshine, Lollipops And Rainbows" - with Carly Simon's Bond theme charting high and selling well, in addition to the theme from the Robby Benson vehicle ICE CASTLES, "Through The Eyes Of Love", originally performed by Melissa Manchester; to say nothing of THE WAY WE WERE song and soundtrack's worldwide hit status. Furthermore, Hamlisch had one more huge hit in him to close out his career pinnacle decade and that property was another wholly original Broadway musical to run alongside one-time long-run champion A CHORUS LINE - the Neil Simon/Carole Bayer Sager collaboration THEY'RE PLAYING OUR SONG, originally starring Lucie Arnaz and Robert Klein.
While he composed many marvelous film scores - perhaps most notably ORDINARY PEOPLE, SOPHIE'S CHOICE and 3 MEN AND A BABY (clear cases for his range, no doubt) - the 1980s and 1990s proved to be less fruitful as far as stage successes went for Hamlisch, unfortunately, with Jean Seberg dying a quick death at The National Theatre in 1982 - though yielding one of his most cherished ballads (of many), "Dreamers", memorably recorded by Sarah Brightman and others - and SMILE dying nearly as quickly despite a superb score coming as a result of his partnership with Howard Ashman. Lighting did not strike again with the Neil Simon-penned THE GOODBYE GIRL, either, though Bernadette Peters and Martin Short are remembered fondly for their chemistry and spunky, recitative-flecked love duet (including a witty David Zippel lyric containing the phrase "Sondheimlich maneuver"). Hamlisch's stage scores in the new century were largely better received, with his incidental songs for the Jack O'Brien play with music IMAGINARY FRIENDS hitting the right chords for stars Swoozie Kurtz and Cherry Jones, as well as his positively brilliant and spine-tingling 1950s noir score for SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS, originally starring John Lithgow (who won a Tony for his charismatic leading role), Brian D'Arcy James and Kelli O'Hara, winning over the audience in ways the dark show did not (thus the brief run).
Most recently, Jerry Lewis teamed up with Marvin Hamlisch and Rupert Holmes for a stage musical adaptation of Lewis's cinema comedy classic THE NUTTY PROFESSOR - currently playing out-of-town in Nashville -but the immediate future for the show is unclear now with the sudden passing of the show's composer, though multi-Tony-Award-winner Rupert Holmes seems more than capable of taking the musical reigns should any more material be needed at this late stage, one could venture. Additionally, Hamlisch also had reportedly made contributions to Steven Soderbergh's upcoming HBO Liberace biopic BEHIND THE CANDELABRA - starring Michael Douglas and Matt Damon, set to premiere next year and currently in production - just prior to his death. So, while he is no longer with us, there is Marvin Hamlisch music - plus, his new material for BALLROOM and the new musical GOTTA DANCE - still to be heard and for that we can all surely be eternally grateful.
From conducting the greatest television concert of all time, LIZA WITH A Z, starring, in his own words to me back in 2010, "the greatest performer," Liza Minnelli, to his peerless work with whom he cited in the same exchange as "the greatest voice", Barbra Streisand, to everything else, Marvin Hamlisch achieved more in his 68-year life and career than many of the greats and shall undoubtedly be remembered for many centuries to come as one of the most popular and accomplished composers of the 20th and 21st century.
As the lights of Broadway dim in his honor tonight, it is time to kiss today goodbye one final time.
My InDepth InterView with Marvin Hamlisch from 2010 is available here.
Nobody Did It Better
So, now, let's take a look back at the highlights from a career virtually beyond compare - from the stages of Broadway to the soundstages of Hollywood to TV and recording studios to the greatest concert halls around the world, Marvin Hamlisch did it all, and did it with dignity, grace and class.
Part I: At The Ballet
One singular sensation like few others, Marvin Hamlisch's work on A CHORUS LINE is so idiosyncratic - and pure genius - that there is no other place to begin but right there.
Marvin Hamlisch kicks off the 2007 Tony Awards in a grand manner, leading the 2006 revival company of A CHORUS LINE in a medley of the show's hits from atop Radio City Music Hall itself.
Now, witness the opening sequence (nearly) in full, "I Hope I Get It", as performed by the original cast on the 1976 Tony Awards below. Sheer magic!
Now, here is the tremendous finale ultimo of A CHORUS LINE - "One" - which closed that year's Tony telecast (where it had just won Best Musical, incidentally; mere coincidence?).
A CHORUS LINE Tony Award-winner - now BUNHEADS standout - Kelly Bishop leads a superb rendition of the rapturous and revealing "At The Ballet" in this riveting original cast reunion from a 1990 episode of DONAHUE.
Linda Eder passionately renders "What I Did For Love", the breakout hit from A CHORUS LINE, at HALLELUJAH BROADWAY.
Just this week GLEE creator and executive producer Ryan Murphy released the full-length Season One deleted scene of Lea Michele and Jonathan Groff enacting "Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love" from A CHORUS LINE. Enjoy the tasty clip below.
Judge for yourself: here is the trailer for the unsatisfying film adaptation of A CHORUS LINE.
A much more enjoyable cinematic experience is undoubtedly the documentary tracing the casting of the 2006 Broadway revival of A CHORUS LINE, directed by Adam Del Deo and James D. Stern, EVERY LITTLE STEP. See the trailer for the heart-stopping real-life modern mirror to the classic showbiz show below.
Part II: Memories
Going back to the time when it all began, take in two of the greatest performers of all time - Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli - positively knocking a rousing Marvin Hamlisch arrangement of "Hello, Dolly!" and GYPSY's "Together Wherever We Go" out of the park at JUDY & LIZA AT THE PALLADIUM in 1964.
Watch InDepth InterView participant Lesley Gore sweetly croon "Sunshine, Lollipops And Rainbows" on SHINDIG! in 1965.
See if you can spot an impossibly young Hamlisch in this clip from 1967's camp classic VALLEY OF THE DOLLS, accompanying Neely O'Hara (aka Patty Duke) on "Give A Little More".
A little-known piece of Broadway trivia: Marvin Hamlisch provided dance and/or vocal arrangements for a number of 1960s musicals - most notably FUNNY GIRL - and worked with young choreographer/director Michael Bennett, his future A CHORUS LINE collaborator, on both the short-lived HENRY, SWEET HENRY and the marginally more successful SEESAW. Michele Lee performs the climax of SEESAW on the 1974 Tony Awards below.
Hamlisch also contributed arrangements to the over-the-top Vegas spectacle starring Steve and Eydie that inexplicably ended up on Broadway somehow in 1967, GOLDEN RAINBOW. Watch this jaw-dropping performance on the 1968 Tony Awards for a taste of the indescribable experience of the bizarre, assumedly you-had-to-be-there-type tuner.
Hamlisch provided film scores for both of Woody Allen's earliest solo directing efforts, BANANAS and TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN. Check out the far-out sounds of Hamlisch's score in the bank robbery scene from the latter film comedy from 1969 below.
Part III: It's Time Now To Soar
In 1972, Liza Minnelli took the world by storm with her indefatigable turn in quite evidently the most spectacular TV solo concert of all-time, Bob Fosse's LIZA WITH A Z - and her best friend since the age of 13, Marvin Hamlisch, was right there to conduct it and neither one of them ever missed a beat all the while; and how! Enjoy the Kander & Ebb title song below.
THEY'RE PLAYING OUR SONG was a huge, long-running hit and the story of star-crossed lovers was the ideal fodder for Hamlisch's funky, yet quaint romantic pop score. Lucie Arnaz and Robert Klein perform a characteristically caustic Neil Simon scene and sing the title song on that year's Tony Awards below.
In 1973, Hamlisch took home three Oscars in one night - one for THE STING and two for THE WAY WE WERE.
First up, here is the trailer for THE WAY WE WERE, directed by Sidney Lumet and written by Arthur Laurents.
Next, here is the trailer for the 1973 re-release of the seven-time Academy Award-winning THE STING, directed by George Roy Hill and starring Robert Redford and Paul Newman.
Enjoy Johnny Mathis in an impromptu duet with Hamlisch on a song Hamlisch wrote for KOTCH, starring Walter Matthau, in 1971 - "Life Is What You Make It". Nothing beats the real thing, but Marvin's impression is pretty spot-on, is it not?!
Around the time of the premiere of THE ENTERTAINER on TV, for which he composed the score, Hamlisch joined Bing Crosby and one of the film's marquee stars, iconic WIZARD OF OZ Scarecrow Ray Bolger, in a lively routine on THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH Johnny Carson in 1976. "The Only Way To Go" is right!
Marvin Hamlisch and Carly Simon join forces in a discussion of their iconic James Bond theme in this 1989 TV special in which she recounts the story of her first experience of the song - and its composer - and then joins him in performing it.
Following that, enjoy the striking opening title credit sequence from 1977's THE SPY WHO LOVED ME, featuring the Hamlisch/Carole Bayer Sager song "Nobody Does It Better" performed by Carly Simon. One of the biggest and best Bond tunes ever!
Melissa Manchester gives voice to the theme from ICE CASTLES, "Through The Eyes Of Love", in this touching montage of the most treasured scenes from the popular sports romance film.
Part IV: Ordinary Miracles
Speaking of memorable moments in movie history, this suite of themes from SOPHIE'S CHOICE evocatively conjures up the emotionally devastating, but somehow nostalgically old world nature of Hamlisch's remarkable score for the Oscar-winning period piece starring Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline.
Sample the one and only Lauren Bacall as Sally Ross storm the stage as only she can in this montage of kitschy musical numbers from the outrageously campy musical-within-the-movie in the thriller THE FAN from 1981, NEVER SAY NEVER - filmed on location at the Shubert Theatre. Also, "Hearts, Not Diamonds", "Hot Love Baby Tonight" and "A Remarkable Woman" all contain lyrics by none other than Sir Tim Rice.
Members of the original Broadway cast of SMILE reconvene to recapture the moving magic of "In Our Hands" at Howard Ashman's memorial service on May 6, 1991.
Michelle Nicastro offers up a heartfelt cover of the most famous SMILE score standout, "Disneyland".
While LIZA WITH A Z may be the greatest TV concert ever filmed, Barbra Streisand's THE CONCERT comes awfully close thanks in no small part to the fine attention to musical detail - this astounding "As If We Never Said Goodbye" courtesy of Andrew Lloyd Webber's SUNSET BOULEVARD is clear proof. She's come home at last, indeed!
Enjoy this recent Barbara Boxer endorsed music video in which Hamlisch's stirring "A Woman's Voice" (lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman) is compellingly presented and utilized.
Part V: Baby, You're The Best
Recent InDepth InterView participant Brian d'Arcy James eloquently described his ecstatic experience performing the titanic "At The Fountain" eight times a week in SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS when I spoke to him, but this vintage clip from THE Rosie O'Donnell SHOW is all you need to see - and hear. Wow - what a stunner!
Singing one of the score's catchiest ensemble numbers, here is the original cast of SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS on the 2002 Tony Awards performing "Dirt", led by Tony-winner John Lithgow in the musical theatre role of a lifetime, that of star columnist J.J. Hunsecker.
Next, enjoy "Trust Me", Hamlisch's swingin' theme song sung by jazz notable Steve Tyrell, taken from the 2009 Matt Damon-starring Steven Soderbergh film THE INFORMANT! Soderbergh and Hamlisch posthumously will re-team with the release of BEHIND THE CANDELABRA, the Liberace HBO biopic starring Michael Douglas and Damon, next year, for which Hamlisch had already completed the musical score prior to his passing yesterday.
Here is a recent performance capture of Hamlisch on solo piano performing a medley of famous American Songbook standards, topped off by a tune of his own.
Check out this extensive 2009 KCTS-9 interview with Hamlisch in which he discusses his childhood influences and career to date.
In reportedly his last live performance ever, here is Hamlisch playing piano in concert one final time.
The most iconic iteration of the title song from THE WAY WE WERE will undoubtedly remain Streisand's incomparable original, but international superstar and DREAMGIRLS star Beyonce recently gave it her own spin at the Kennedy Center Honors salute to Streisand with a generally worthwhile reevaluation.
While LIZA WITH A Z and Barbra's THE CONCERT are perhaps the top two finest theatre-themed TV concerts of all time and both set an impossibly high standard which to follow, Hamlisch achieved greatness once again by working alongside a 21st century diva in her very first TV special just last year - Idina Menzel: BAREFOOT AT THE SYMPHONY. See the thrilling "Tomorrow" finale below and then check out the rest - it is sublime.
Perhaps the finest performance of a Marvin Hamlisch song ever, here is Barbra Streisand on FROM FUNNY GIRL TO FUNNY LADY in 1975 doing what she does best with quite arguably the finest song ever written for her (and that is truly saying something) - "The Way We Were". Like buttah!
As a special bonus, enjoy Brittany Murphy's endearingly sweet take on "Nobody Does It Better" from LITTLE BLACK BOOK.
As one final bonus, enjoy this full-length White House concert from 2010, A BROADWAY CELEBRATION: IN PERFORMANCE AT THE WHITE HOUSE, conducted by the one and only Marvin Hamlisch, introduced by President Barack Obama and featuring Idina Menzel's impassioned "What I Did For Love" from A CHORUS LINE among a host of other joys.
So, what Marvin Hamlisch melody moves you the most of all? What tune will you remember most fondly, now and forever? Is "What I Did For Love" the song of songs or does "The Way We Were" win the race? Or, is it one of his many other masterpieces that you just can't forget? With a catalog of songs and scores as diverse and important as this one, there are far too many gems to choose from; yes, Marvin Hamlisch really was the best. He's the one.