Hamlisch and show music matters

January 11, 2008
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Appreciative applause met Marvin Hamlisch when, just a few hours ago, he announced from the podium at the Hilbert Circle Theatre that he’d be conducting a medley of songs from “My Fair Lady” as part of his pops program with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra

Sighs of recognition came when guest vocalist J. Mark McVey (vet of 2,000-plus performances of “Les Miserables” in New York, London and elsewhere) joined him for a performance of the classic “Soliloquy” (“My boy Bill  …”) from “Carousel.”

And when the ISO played an unused overture to Hamlisch's own mega-hit, “A Chorus Line,” he had the audience in the palm of his hand.

But during this engaging performance (the matinee is a truncated version of the full evening show, which you can still catch tonight, Saturday or Sunday) a number of issues arose—at least for me:

1. Is there theater music happening today that, in years to come, will in any way generate the kind of audience love that Rodgers and Hammerstein and Lerner and Lowe do with today’s symphonic seniors? (And if you mention “Les Miz, remember: That show opened before my college-aged daughter was born.)
2. What does it say that this talented multi-award-winning composer has not had another Broadway hit since “A Chorus Line” opened in 1975? How much can we blaim the composer when it comes to shows such as “The Goodbye Girl” or “Sweet Smell of Success”? (The music for both, IMHO, happens to be pretty solid). More importantly, why hasn’t Hamlisch had many opportunities for theatrical lightning to strike again?

3. Even Broadway at its best can’t compete with the sound of the ISO. In its original production, for example, “A Chorus Line” was only scored for 18 musicians. “Mamma Mia!” is done with nine. The ISO is more than 75 musicians strong. It makes a difference. A big one.


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