by Adam Cohen
Exuberance, celebration and joy were the key takeaways from The American Songbook Association’s Monday, September 16 honor of the Pulitzer, Tony, and Grammy winning lyricist Sheldon Harnick.
Harnick is well known for classic musicals like “Fiddler on the Roof” and “She Loves Me.” He also wrote “Fiorello,” “Tenderloin,” “The Apple Tree” with composer Jerry Bock. Other collaborations include A Christmas Carol with Michel Legrand; Rex with Richard Rodgers; A Wonderful Life with Joe Raposo; and The Phantom Tollbooth with Arnold Black. For Dragons and Malpractice Makes Perfect, he provided book lyrics and music. He has written songs for the films The Heartbreak Kid and Blame It On Rio both with music by Cy Coleman; and Aaron’s Magic Village with Michel Legrand. And he composed for opera, collaborating with composer Jack Beeson, Harnick provided the librettos for Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines, Dr. Heidegger’s Fountain of Youth, and Cyrano Other operas include Love in Two Countries with Thomas Shepard and Coyote Tales with Henry Mollicone.
The American Songbook Association’s mission is to preserve and foster the immense cultural gift of the great songwriters and their work. And in choosing to bestow lifetime achievement kudos to Sheldon Harnick, ASA honored their mission with class, grace and amazing performances of Mr. Harnick’s work.
The evening was a full-throated tribute to Harnick’s wit and wisdom, his poetry and creativity. Harnick’s first song for a Broadway show was the hilarious “Boston Beguine” for New Faces of 1952. Klea Blackhurst delivered the song with her typical panache and hosted the evening with great gusto and mirth.
Highlights of the evening, which spanned selections from Harnick’s remarkable careers, included Samantha Massell, Melanie Moore, Alexandra Silber amazing loving rendition of “Matchmaker” from Fiddler. Their sisterhood, love of the song and one another was absolute. Judy Kuhn rendered a gorgeous turn of “Vanilla Ice Cream” from She Loves Me. Brad Oscar performed “Blonde Blues” hysterically. Liz Calloway offered “When Did I Fall in Love” from Fiorello beautifully. Kissy Simmons “Gorgeous” lived up to the title. And from the current Yiddish version of Fiddler, Steven Skybell wowed with “Ven Ikh Bin Rothschild.” The evening climaxed with the full array of performers including Alan Schmuckler, Sidney Myer, Ed Dixon, Robert Cuccoli, Adam Heller, Jeff Harnar and Alex Rybeck joining in on “To Life.”
In addition to hearing the words of Mr. Harnick sung by the remarkable cast, Deborah Grace Winer presented him with the Lifetime Achievement Award.
Harnick’s lyrics are truly warm and poetic and as performed by this wonderful cast of professionals, the audience came away with the scope of his beautiful work. His lyrics reap the fundamental human experiences in language that touches an audience’s heart. For this reason his impact on the music world has been profound.
Marilyn Lester, Executive Director of ASA and Carolyn Montgomery, Director Education and Outreach, spoke eloquently of their mission. The ASA conducts educational programs in New York City public schools, and creates performances serving its audience of seniors, students and others. Said Lester “We strive to inspire, transform, empower and create torchbearers for future generations so they may understand, appreciate and embrace the historical and cultural importance of America’s rich musical heritage.” They also publish Cabaret Scenes magazine.
Photos: Maryann Lopinto