On November 20, TMTP spotlights Lerner & Loewe—the songwriting team behind My Fair Lady, Camelot, Gigi and Brigadoon. The last of the great romantics, they thrived in a changing Broadway scene that Lerner called the “sundown of wit, eccentricity and, if you will, elegance.”
Join us just a few days before Thanksgiving for “Almost Like Being in Love: The Songs of Lerner & Loewe.” We’re kicking off your holiday season with words and music that four generations have embraced, and we’ll introduce you to the men behind them. The beautiful Hanna Theatre at Playhouse Square provides the setting for an afternoon of grace and wit offered by Gigi, Henry Higgins, Eliza Doolittle and, of course, Arthur and Guenevere.
Bill Rudman and Nancy Maier will co-host, with star vocalists Benjamin Czarnota (familiar to TMTP audiences from last spring’s “Bernstein On Broadway”) and New York’s Clare Eisentrout (last seen in our Behind the Musical version of Carousel). In addition to Nancy on piano, the evening will feature violin and cello performing new arrangements by Cleveland composer Ty Alan Emerson.
Audiences will hear the story of how the young New York lyricist Alan Jay Lerner launched and sustained a 40-year partnership with the Berlin-born composer Frederick Loewe, 17 years his senior. As always, TMTP will dig up some hidden treasures, including the team’s early work before “happily-ever-aftering” in My Fair Lady and Camelot.
TMTP associate director Joanna May Hunkins spoke with Nancy and Ty to get a better sense of what makes the musicals of Lerner & Loewe beloved all over the world.
JOANNA: What was your initial reaction to diving into this great catalogue of songs?
NANCY: Absolutely thrilled! My Fair Lady, Camelot and Brigadoon had a huge impact on me growing up. It was always such a treat to buy an LP in those days—and I cherished those albums. They contributed greatly to my lifelong love of musical theater.
TY: Many folks talk about how Frederick Loewe was one of the last romantics in musical theater, so I was looking forward to seeing and hearing what that meant.
JOANNA: And what did you discover about this composer?
TY: I learned that as he matured, Loewe wrote more for the ensemble. Things became more complex with more lines, counterpoint and instrumental commentary. He also stretched his harmonic language, especially when he had something magical to say.
NANCY: “Magic” is a great word. Their musicals tend to take us to faraway times and places, even fantasy-like settings. Loewe was born in Vienna so his music springs from the European operetta tradition—a tradition he adopted with great success to appeal to an American audience without losing its Continental roots.
JOANNA: And how about his writing partner, Alan Jay Lerner? What makes his lyrics unique?
NANCY: His words strike me as very civilized with warmth, sophistication and intelligence. They are extremely well-crafted. He is known to have spent a lot of time on each lyric, and it shows.
JOANNA: Let’s talk about the singers. What will be their biggest challenge with this material?
TY: Many of these songs are etched in our memories, as sung by specific performers. Our vocalists have to be able to fill the shoes of icons like Julie Andrews and Robert Goulet while still finding their own interpretations.
NANCY: With material this familiar, expectations are high. Each and every song requires polish and real style from any singer who presents it.
JOANNA: And I understand our singers will have some company on stage.
NANCY: This was Bill’s idea, and a good one. We have TMTP’s first “piano trio,” a classical combination of piano, violin and cello that has attracted composers over the centuries and seemed perfect for the lyricism of these famous scores.
TY: The idea started with presenting an intimate and—here comes the word again!—elegant concert. This instrumentation allows for a variety of textures and colors, and has a wide range of dynamics built into it.
JOANNA: Lerner & Loewe certainly had an impact on pop music. A song like “On the Street Where You Live” from My Fair Lady has been recorded by artists ranging from Lawrence Welk to Marvin Gaye to Willie Nelson. What makes their sound so accessible?
TY: The tunes are very well constructed. There is a balance to them that performers enjoy, and their popularity makes them a prime target for reinvention by contemporary artists, though we are taking great care to honor the team’s original intentions.
JOANNA: Do you have a favorite Lerner & Loewe song?
NANCY: I think it’s the rarely performed “There but for You Go I” from Brigadoon. It’s so simple in a way, but very profound in the lyric—a real cry from the heart.
TY: “Follow Me” from Camelot is a favorite because it’s so moody and lush. But I also love the joy in “The Night They Invented Champagne” from Gigi.
JOANNA: What do you hope audiences take away from this concert?
TY: I hope they hear the growth and development of this team’s work over the course of their long partnership.
NANCY: I think they’ll be delighted all over again by these beautiful classics, and I hope we will stir many personal memories for them. The musicals of Lerner & Loewe run deep in the American psyche; they’re part of Broadway’s Golden Age.