[Dixielandjazz] Cy Coleman OBIT
barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Sat Nov 20 08:01:43 PST 2004
Here is a more definitive obit on Cy Coleman that the one I posted by the
Associated Press yesterday. Lots of OKOM was written by this genius.
November 20, 2004 - NY TIMES - By ROBERT BERKVIST
Cy Coleman, Composer Whose Jazz-Fired Musicals Blazed on Broadway, Dies at
Cy Coleman, the debonair jazz pianist and composer of legendary Broadway
tunes like "Witchcraft," "Big Spender" and "The Best Is Yet to Come," died
on Thursday night at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. He was 75 and lived in
The cause was heart failure, said John Barlow, a press agent who was working
with Mr. Coleman on a forthcoming production.
A fixture along Broadway for the better part of five decades, Mr. Coleman
had just attended the premiere of Michael Frayn's new play, "Democracy," at
the Brooks Atkinson Theater. "He felt unwell at the party afterward and
collapsed at the hospital," Mr. Barlow said. The lights on Broadway theater
marquees were dimmed at 8 last night in tribute to Mr. Coleman. A fluent
stylist, Mr. Coleman produced an impressively varied body of work. His
Broadway scores touched many styles, from noirish film music ("City of
Angels") to country ("The Will Rogers Follies") to rhythm and blues ("The
Life"), but they always remained firmly anchored in a razzle-dazzle
show-tune tradition that embraced the spirit of burlesque. His musical
signature was the strutting, swaggering star turn: "Hey, Look Me Over" (from
"Wildcat"), "I've Got Your Number" (from "Little Me") and "Big Spender" and
"If My Friends Could See Me Now" (from "Sweet Charity").
Mr. Coleman was prolific as well, frequently working on three or four
projects at once - "one feeds the other" was his explanation - and
constantly revising the task at hand. "I don't like to let go," he once
said. "I will drain to the last drop."
At the time of his death, Mr. Coleman was juggling several productions,
including a revival of "Sweet Charity"; separate musical biographies of
Napoleon, Grace Kelly and Elaine Kaufman, the proprietor of Elaine's
restaurant in Manhattan; and "Pamela's First Musical," based on the
playwright Wendy Wasserstein's book for children. And as late as last month,
he was performing in cabaret at Feinstein's at the Regency.
"When you can play piano, and I can say this unabashedly, as well as I do,"
he said in an interview in The New York Times on Oct. 8, "you don't like for
people not to be able to hear you."
Mr. Coleman, whose collaborators over the years included Carolyn Leigh,
Dorothy Fields, and Betty Comden and Adolph Green, had his share of flops on
Broadway, but his successes rank high on the list of memorable stage
"Sweet Charity" (1966), an adaptation of Federico Fellini's film "Nights of
Cabiria," has a book by Neil Simon and lyrics by Fields; it was directed and
choreographed by Bob Fosse. Starring Gwen Verdon as a dance hall hostess
looking for love, the show overcame lukewarm reviews and ran for more than
600 performances. Adapted for the screen in 1969, with Shirley MacLaine in
the lead role, "Sweet Charity" earned Mr. Coleman an Oscar nomination for
best score of a musical.
A revival of that show, produced by Barry and Fran Weissler and Clear
Channel Entertainment, is to open on Broadway in April, starring Christina
Applegate in the role Ms. Verdon originated.
"Now the entire production of 'Sweet Charity' will be dedicated to him," Mr.
Weissler said in a telephone interview yesterday. "And that is as it should
In 1978 Mr. Coleman teamed with Comden and Green to turn out "On the
Twentieth Century," based on a 1932 play by Ben Hecht, Charles MacArthur and
Bruce Milholland. The action takes place aboard the 20th Century Limited, an
express train en route from Chicago to New York, and involves Oscar Jaffee,
a flamboyant theater impresario down on his luck, and Lily Garland, his
former protégée and lover, who has left him for movie stardom. Oscar tries
everything to woo Lily back into his theater and his life. The show, staged
by Hal Prince, with John Cullum and Madeline Kahn in the lead roles, won Mr.
Coleman his first Tony Award for best original score of a musical, along
with his lyricists, Comden and Green, who also won a Tony for best book of a
No stranger to Hollywood, having composed a number of film scores, Mr.
Coleman joined the writer Larry Gelbart and the lyricist David Zippel in a
project that became "City of Angels," a satirical portrait of the
mogul-ridden film world of the 1940's, told from two perspectives. The
musical, which opened on Broadway in December 1989, became one of Mr.
Coleman's biggest hits, with his jazzy, swinging score punctuating Mr.
Gelbart's wickedly funny portraits of Stine, a writer peddling his
screenplay, and Stone, the hard-boiled private eye who springs to life from
Frank Rich, reviewing the show in The Times, called Mr. Gelbart's book
"flat-out funny" and Mr. Coleman's score "a delirious celebration of jazz
and pop styles." "City of Angels" went on to win several Tony Awards,
including best musical, best book and best original score.
Mr. Coleman's musical education began early. He was born Seymour Kaufman on
June 14, 1929, the son of Max and Ida Kaufman, Russian immigrants. He grew
up in a Bronx apartment house owned by his mother. As he recalled, one of
the tenants moved out and left a piano behind. The Kaufmans made the piano
their own, and soon their 4-year-old son made it his.
The boy was good enough to attract the attention of the building's milkman,
who in turn mentioned this prodigy to his own son's piano teacher. The
teacher was impressed and offered classical lessons, and as a result, Mr.
Coleman - he was still Kaufman then - made his Carnegie Hall debut at age 7.
(He once said that his first music publisher suggested that he adopt the
name Cy Coleman.)
He went on to attend the High School of Music and Art, as well as the New
York College of Music. He first earned money by playing popular music in
cocktail lounges and on the club circuit. He was irresistibly drawn to jazz
and soon put all thoughts of a classical career behind him, although in
later years he made many guest appearances with major ensembles, including
the Detroit, Syracuse and Milwaukee Symphony orchestras.
In the early 1950's, Mr. Coleman met the lyricist Carolyn Leigh and began
the frequently stormy collaboration that would lead them both to Broadway.
The majority of Mr. Coleman's finest songs came from this partnership.
Leigh's words, dripping with innuendo, carried the savory, erotic zest of
Cole Porter into the modern age. These lyrics perfectly matched Mr.
Coleman's spiky, syncopated pop-jazz melodies, and they remain the ultimate
musical distillation of sophisticated cocktail party banter of the period.
Their early hits included "Witchcraft" and "The Best Is Yet to Come." Then,
in 1960, they wrote the songs for "Wildcat," which starred Lucille Ball as
Wildcat Jackson, a hard-as-nails prospector looking to strike oil.
The next - and final - Coleman-Leigh collaboration was "Little Me" (1962),
adapted by Neil Simon from a novel by Patrick Dennis and directed by Fosse.
The musical follows the rise from poverty to fame of a young woman named
Belle Poitrine (played on Broadway by Virginia Martin and Nancy Andrews, who
portrayed Belle at different ages). Notable chiefly for the performance of
its star, the comedian Sid Caesar, who played all seven of Belle's suitors,
"Little Me" ran only a few months. Soon after, Mr. Coleman and Leigh parted
company. Summing up their often prickly relationship, Mr. Coleman said
simply, "We fought constantly."
Harmony returned when he worked with Dorothy Fields, first on "Sweet
Charity" and then on "Seesaw" (1973). Based on William Gibson's hit play
"Two for the Seesaw," this musical, with a book and direction by Michael
Bennett and starring Ken Howard, Michele Lee and Tommy Tune, was the story
of a brief romantic encounter between a Nebraska lawyer and a young dancer
from the Bronx. It, too, had only a modest run.
After Fields died in 1974, Mr. Coleman worked with Michael Stewart to write
"I Love My Wife" (1977), a comedic look at the possibilities of
wife-swapping in suburbia, and "Barnum" (1980), which had a book by Mark
Bramble and starred Jim Dale as the ultimate showman, P. T. Barnum. The show
became a long-running hit, and Mr. Dale's dazzling performance won him a
In 1991 Mr. Coleman added to his own collection of Tonys with "The Will
Rogers Follies," in which Keith Carradine, as the folksy, rope-twirling
humorist, presided over the director Tommy Tune's version of a Ziegfeld
extravaganza. "Will Rogers," with a book by Peter Stone and lyrics by Comden
and Green, received a tepid reception from the critics but played for two
and a half years, winning the Tony for best musical and best original score.
The last original Coleman musical to make it to Broadway was "The Life"
(1997), which focused on the corrosive existence of a Times Square
prostitute, played by Pamela Isaacs, and the pimps and other women
surrounding her. "The Life" had lyrics by Ira Gasman, and a book he wrote
with David Newman and Mr. Coleman. The show's highlight was the song "The
Oldest Profession," given a bluesy rendition by Lillias White.
The year 1997 brought not only "The Life" to Broadway but also Mr. Coleman
to the altar. An enthusiastic bachelor for many years, he married Shelby
Brown that October. She survives him, along with their daughter, Lily Cye,
4, whose miniature white Steinway piano stands alongside Mr. Coleman's
rather grander one in the family's Sutton Place townhouse.
Mr. Coleman had no time for retirement, he said. "It won't work for me," he
told The Times in October. "I'm lucky to be in a profession where you can
keep getting better. To put it in musician's terms, my chops are good."
Stephen Holden contributed reporting for this obituary.
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