BWW Nashville: NUTTY PROFESSOR Composer Marvin Hamlisch Dies in Los Angeles


Composer Marvin Hamlisch, whose latest musical theater work is on display in Nashville in the Broadway-bound production of The Nutty Professor, has died in Los Angeles, according to the Associated Press. He was 68 years old, and his death was made public by a family spokesperson. He is survived by his wife, Terre.

Hamlisch, one of only eleven EGOT winners in the history of the entertainment industry, was awarded three Oscars, four Grammys, four Emmys, a Tony and three Golden Globe awards for his work. On Broadway, he wrote the music for A Chorus Line—which received the Pulitzer Prize—as well as They’re Playing Our Song, The Goodbye Girl and Sweet Smell of Success.

He is the composer of more than 40 motion picture scores including his Oscar-winning score and song for The Way We Were and his adaptation of Scott Joplin’s music for The Sting, for which he received a third Oscar. His prolific output of scores for films include original compositions and/or musical adaptations for Sophie’s Choice, Ordinary People, The Swimmer, Three Men and a Baby, Ice Castles, Take the Money and Run, Bananas and Save the Tiger.

Hamlisch held the position of principal pops conductor for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Pasadena Symphony and Pops, Seattle Symphony and San Diego Symphony. He was musical director and arranger of Barbra Streisand’s 1994 concert tour of the U.S. and England as well as of the television special, Barbra Streisand: The Concert (for which he won two Emmy Awards).

In late July, I interviewed Marvin Hamlisch ahead of the Nashville opening of The Nutty Professor. When we were originally scheduled to talk—I had been told, “You’re scheduled to talk to him at 4 p.m. Call at 4 p.m. on the dot. Marvin doesn’t believe in this ‘around 4’ stuff.”—he failed to answer the phone. I was told later that he was “very embarrassed” to admit he had neglected to turn on the ringer of his cell phone, causing him to miss my call.

That led to my favorite voicemail of all time: “Jef, this is Marvin Hamlisch—call me when you get this.”

We rescheduled. When I called him at the new, appointed time, Terre Hamlisch answered, telling me he was in a meeting and he would call me back. Half-an-hour later, he did just that, explaining to me that he was about to head home and that I should call him in an hour.

When I called back, he was in the car, heading back home from the meeting. “We’re stuck in traffic,” he told me. “Let’s just do this now. Hold on while I plug this thing in…”

And then we talked about The Nutty Professor and his love of the work of Jerry Lewis, his experience working with Rupert Holmes, and we discussed the creative process that had brought the team to this point.

When I told him that members of the media had been treated to several of his new songs during a media look-in at TPAC, I mentioned that Nutty Professor leading lady Marissa McGowan had sung “While I Still Have the Time,” a classic Hamlisch ballad, for us.

“What did you think?” he asked.

“It was beautiful,” I replied. “It’s the Marvin Hamlisch ballad we all were hoping to hear.”

His response was refreshing and heartfelt: “I’m so glad you liked it,” he said. “That means so much to me that you liked it. That’s really terrific. Thank you.”

Marvin Hamlisch thanked me for complimenting a song he’d written—and he was sincerely grateful.

But I shouldn't have been surprised. In another interview in July, he was quoted as saying, “I’m not one of those people who says, ‘I never read reviews,’ because I don’t believe those people. I think they read ‘em. These songs are my babies. And I always say, it’s like having a baby in a hospital, taking a Polaroid and going up to someone and saying, ‘What do you think?’ And he goes, ‘I give you a 3.’ That’s what criticism is like. You’ve worked on this thing forever—‘I give you a 3.’ And it’s part of you. That’s the bargain you’ve made.”

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Jeffrey Ellis Jeffrey Ellis is a Nashville-based writer, editor and critic, who's been covering the performing arts in Tennessee for more than 25 years. He is the recipient of the Tennessee Theatre Association's Distinguished Service Award for his coverage of theatre in the Volunteer State and was the founding editor/publisher of Stages, the Tennessee Onstage Monthly. He is a past fellow of the National Critics Institute at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center and is the founder/executive producer of The First Night Honors, held during Labor Day Weekend, which honor oustanding theater artists in Tennessee in recognition of their lifetime achievements and includes The First Night Star Awards and the Most Promising Actors. Midwinter's First Night, held the first Sunday in January after New Year's Day, honors outstanding productions and performances throughout the state. Further, Ellis directed the Nashville premiere of La Cage Aux Folles, The Last Night of Ballyhoo and An American Daughter, as well as award-winning productions of Damn Yankees, Company, Gypsy and The Rocky Horror Show, with Ellis honored by The Tennessean as best director of a musical for both Company and Rocky Horror.