by Alix Cohen
In 1970, New York’s culturally immersed 92nd Street Y inaugurated a groundbreaking series called Lyrics and Lyricists featuring what founder Maurice Levine felt were the less acknowledged members of songwriting teams. The host reasoned that wordsmiths could communicate choices and methods in a more accessible way than composers. Iconic practitioners of the art sat onstage beside Levine for conversation and often at a piano to accompany vocalists. The popular architect of L & L held sway there the rest of his life nurturing the historic series. “I’m at heart a teacher. But I never give anyone a lecture. I inform people entertainingly!” (Maurice Levine) A precedent was set.
As seminal lyricists passed away, others in the business were asked to helm evenings which would celebrate writers and their work without the principals. Format was broadened into revues with accompanying narrative. Barry Levitt, Hanna Arie-Gaifman (now Director of The Tisch Center) with Kristin Lancino, and Deborah Grace Winer successively assumed the mantle.
2018’s newly minted Artistic Director, Ted Chapin, has as wide and multifaceted a background as one might hope for in best scenarios. His father, Schyler Chapin, was an eminent member of the city’s cultural movers and shakers, his mother a Steinway. He and his siblings were brought up surrounded by music and theater, but never pressed. “It was no big deal…kind of, I’m going to this concert, do you want to come?”
Chapin transferred from Lawrence University to Connecticut College and additionally landed at The National Theater Institute of The O’Neill Center in its formidable first year. He knew he wanted to be in theater but was aware that neither acting nor directing were his sphere. As Lin Manuel Miranda wrote, he “…wanted to be in the room where it happened.” (Hamilton) Chapin “badgered” his father for a entrée job at a Lincoln Center Festival, then went on to assist producers and directors.
When Mary Rodgers asked Chapin to run the Rodgers and Hammerstein office he was barely 30. To say he “grew” the organization is minimizing a vast stewardship involving worldwide copyrights and productions, many of which he was instrumental in getting off the ground. When the corporation was sold, its new scope enabled him to bring in representation of Irving Berlin.
Additionally co-founder of the Encores! Series at City Center, Chairman of The American Theater Wing, host, interviewer, author, lecturer, judge, presenter of 3 Lyrics and Lyricists, and a member of several prestigious theater boards, the new artistic director may, in fact, have to send a clone to L & L rehearsals. He seems indefatiguable. Stephen Sondheim once commented that Ted Chapin makes creative things happen.
Lyrics & Lyricists opens January 20, 21, 22 with The Bobby Darin Story, Directed by Alex Timbers, Co-Musical Directors Billy Stritch and Andy Einhorn. Featuring Vocalists Jonathan Groff, David Pittu, George Salazar, Elena Shaddow, and Stephanie Styles.
How, I ask, with so much musical theater on Chapin’s mind, does a pop singer come into purview? It seems a year ago, in Australia to see a production of My Fair Lady directed by Julie Andrews, Chapin attended a preview of Dream Lover, a musical about Bobby Darin. Apparently the teenage heartthrob wrote some 160 songs including pop, folk, a protest number, and one called “I Am” which the director says is similar to work of Dory Previn. Chapin returned home intrigued with Darin’s story.
In the course of a friendly (New York) evening, he ran the idea by highly lauded performer Jonathan Groff who promptly went on YouTube and “…became obsessed…I asked who he’d like to direct.” The answer was Alex Timbers. Ideas flew back and forth. Narrative is written by Chapin, who will host. “While a musical tells its story in a dramatic way, we tell it in narrative with song” (both material written by Darin and songs he covered.)
2018 Lyrics and Lyricists continues:
Lenny’s Lyricists: February 24, 25, 26. Co-Artistic-Directed by Rob Fisher and Amanda Green (daughter of lyricist Adolph Green); Directed by Gary Griffin. Vocalists: Mikaela Bennett, Darius de Haas, Tony Yazbeck. Additional cast to be announced. The Centennial celebration will feature the work of 9 lyricists who collaborated with Bernstein over the course of his extraordinary career.
Irving Berlin: American March 24, 25, 26 arises from the Centennial of Berlin’s writing “God Bless America.” In fact, Chapin plans to trace the evolution of the anthem. The evening’s subtext is a classic immigrant saga. “If the audience leaves wondering whether anyone could have such a history today, that’s ok. Berlin was the bedrock of what America was and always has been. Whether it’s that today is another story.” Noah Racey, Artistic Director; Aaron Gandy, Music Director.Vocals: Holly Butler, Stephen DeRosa, Danny Gardner. Additional cast to be announced.
Lynn Ahrens: A Lyric Life May 5, 6, 7 “I figured it would be fun to look way back to the origins of the series, and invite a bona fide lyricist to take the stage with stories about the actual art of writing lyrics. Who better than one of the few active, successful women lyricists around – Lynn Ahrens, with 6 Broadway shows to her name including Anastasia and Once on This Island …If I have my way, we’ll learn about things that haven’t worked as well as her great success.” Jason Danieley, Artistic Director; Mary-Mitchell Campbell, Music Director. Vocalists: Nikki Renée Daniels, Hannah Elless, David Harris, Brandon Uranowitz, Alton Fitzgerald White.
Frank Loesser: Lyricist June 2.3, 4 “Sometimes it’s nice to revisit an old friend, certainly Frank Loesser falls into that category. David Loud, who has done some of the hands-down best Lyrics & Lyricists over the years (and OK, our grandmothers’ were best friends…) pulled out a copy of a song Loesser wrote in Hollywood having to do with the neck of the chicken. ‘Let’s celebrate Loesser, the lyricist,’ he said. It was an easy yes.” David Loud Artistic Director. Featuring both Hollywood and Broadway collaborations that resulted in universally loved, predominantly familiar songs. Cast to be announced.
The 2018 series promises to be immensely diverse, illuminating and entertaining.
All quotes are Ted Chapin.
Lyricists and Lyricists receives underwriting support from Gilda and Henry Block, Kenneth Kolker, The Henry Nias Foundation, courtesy of Dr. Stanley Edelman, The Edythe Kenner Foundation, and the Hite Foundation Inc
Information and Tickets: https://www.92y.org/lyrics.aspx