By Myra Chanin
Frank Loesser is considered one of the most versatile of all Broadway composers. He started out writing lyrics for Hollywood movies and ended up writing complete scores for Tony winning musicals. He was born in the summer of 1929 when men were lighting cigars with $10 bills and before he was six months old, the same guys were paupers, flinging themselves out of windows.
Loesser came from a musical family. His father was a distinguished teacher of classical piano, his older brother Arthur was a renowned concert pianist and music critic, but Frank preferred popular music and taught himself to play the piano and harmonica in his early teens. He dropped out of college and supported himself selling newspaper advertising and as city editor of a short-lived newspaper in New Rochelle. And then Broadway beckoned. In 1936, lyrics he wrote for five tunes by Irving Actman for a show that lasted for five performances were good enough to land him a contract with Universal, then Paramount where “Moon of Manakoora” became his first hit. It was mercifully not included in the Cabaret Convention homage.
At the Second Night of the Cabaret Convention, the Cream of the Crop was displaying Loesser’s “Heart and Soul,” Among his many contributions to popular music were the lyrics to that immortal Hoagie Carmichael melody and I hope Loesser participated equally in depositing the royalties. During WWII PFC Frank Loesser was assigned to Special Services, and finding himself without a collaborator, resumed writing music with the war-time hit “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition” In 1948 producers Cy Feuer and Ernest Martin lured him East to create a score for their musical version of Where’s Charley? starring Ray Bolger and followed by the smart, skeptical and witty Guys and Dolls. Next came the very lush and operatic Most Happy Fellq which starred Jo Sullivan, a great soprano who later became Loesser’s wife. Greenwillow supplied a lull but was followed by another witty and constantly reproduced tour de force, How to Succeed in Business, a work of genius.
Among the splendid singers who participated, one song for each one, were in alphabetical order, Karen Akers, Danny Bacher, Anna Bergman, Barbara Brussell, Liz Callaway, Eric Comstock, Sally Darling, Joshua Lance Dixon, Barbara Fasano, Marilyn Maye, Marissa Mulder, Mark Nadler, Karen Oberlin, Steve Ross, David Sabella, Marta Sanders, Tim Schall, Jane Schecheter, Lisa Viggiano and Lenny Watts, Alex Rybeck, Jered Egan and Dan Gross accompanying most of them on piano, bass and drums.
There was only one no-show, Tovah Feldshuh, who had the manners to send Tallulah Bankhead as her utterly depraved replacement singing, “Murder, He says.” which was introduced by Betty Hutton. Among my favorite songs, hence my favorite singers, were Liz Callaway with an emotion packed “My Heart Is So Full of You!” and Anna Bergman’s “Somebody, Somewhere,” both from Most Happy Fella, the splendid Karen Akers and Lisa Viggiano caroling “Inchworm” from Hans Christian Anderson, Joshua Lance Dixon with a booming “I Believe in You,” from How to Succeed, and who could blame him, Barbara Brussell’s plaintive “I Wish I Didn’t Love You So,” Sally Darling, who really knew what she was talking about in the WWII favorite complaint, “They’re Either Too Young or Too Old.”
Marta Sanders brought the first act to a blasting finish with “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat” and the ageless Marilyn Maye gave an equally smooth and energetic finish to the evening. Jeff Harnar and Andrea Marcovicci were amiable hosts, but the quartet of Lennie Watts, David Sabella, Tim Schall and Danny Bacher deserve Four Cheers for their animated delivery of “Fugue for Tinhorns.” What a wonderfully descriptive name for a song.
Better get tickets for the remaining Cabaret Convention night. I hope I made you realize the convention is a musical adventure that’s not to be missed.
Photos: Maryann Lopinto
Rose Hall at Lincoln Center