Cy Coleman revue opens in NYC; 50th Anniv of Notable 2012

By on May 3, 2011

On May 18, 2011, the first and only revue of the music of Cy Coleman
fittingly arrives in Cy’s old neighborhood when THE BEST IS YET TO
COME: THE MUSIC OF CY COLEMAN swings into 59E59 Theaters. The show
features an eight-piece band and an all-star cast led by Grammy
winner Billy Stritch and is directed by Tony-winning lyricist and
frequent Cy collaborator, David Zippel. The production will
highlight gems from Coleman’s Broadway shows and pop hits and will
debut several new never-heard-before tunes written toward the end of
Coleman’s prolific life. 2012 marks the 50 Anniversary of his
founding his Notable Music publishing house.

Cy Coleman is the culminating figure among the tunesmiths – Berlin,
the Gershwins, Porter – who penned the Great American Songbook of the
20th century. Composer of “Witchcraft” and Sweet Charity and one of
the most honored musicians of his generation, he was the recipient of
three Tony Awards, two Emmy Awards, two Grammy Awards, and an Academy
Award nomination. During a professional career that spanned eight
decades, he distinguished himself as a concert pianist, jazz
bandleader, pop songwriter, and Broadway composer.

Born Seymour Kaufman on June 14, 1929, in New York City, he was, like
many of the towering writers of his generation, the son of Eastern
European immigrants. As a child in the Bronx, he showed uncanny musical
ability: After his mother, a landlady, received a piano from a tenant as
compensation for unpaid rent, he began picking out songs on the keyboard
by ear. He gave his first classical recital at Carnegie Hall at the
prodigious age of seven.

Educated at the High School for the Performing Arts and New York College
of Music, Coleman (who changed his name at 16) began fronting a trio that
attained popularity on New York’s jazz hub, 52nd Street. He recorded
prolifically as a leader over the years, and one custom-crafted
instrumental composition, “The Playboy Theme,” saw a long life on Playboy
magazine editor-publisher Hugh Hefner’s late-night TV shows.

In the early ‘50s, Coleman took his melodic facility and great rhythmic
gifts to pop songwriting. He first teamed with lyricist Joseph A.
McCarthy; the partnership resulted in such standards-to-be as “Why Try to
Change Me Now” (recorded by Frank Sinatra in 1955) and “I’m Gonna Laugh
You Right Out of My Life” (a hit for Nat King Cole in 1957).

Coleman’s most fruitful collaboration in the pop field – and one that
would lead him to Broadway – was with lyricist Carolyn Leigh. During the
‘50s, the duo collaborated on such hits as “Witchcraft” (a signature tune
for Frank Sinatra), “Firefly” (a top 20 entry in 1958 for Tony Bennett),
and “The Best is Yet to Come” (successfully recorded by both Bennett and

In 1960, the Coleman-Leigh partnership reached the legitimate stage when
Wildcat debuted at New York’s Alvin Theater. The show – which marked TV
icon Lucille Ball’s toplining Broadway bow – was an immediate hit, and
spawned the brash “Hey, Look Me Over.” It was succeeded in 1962 by
another popular Coleman-Leigh show, Little Me; the vehicle for TV
luminary Sid Caesar, directed by Bob Fosse with a book by Neil Simon,
featured the songs “Real Live Girl” and “I’ve Got Your Number.”

The oft-tempestuous team of Coleman and Leigh soon split, but a chance
meeting at a party brought Coleman a new writing partner: the legendary
Dorothy Fields, the Oscar-winning lyricist of such Broadway smashes as
Annie Get Your Gun and Redhead.

Their collaboration bore immediate fruit in Sweet Charity, an earthy
adaptation of Federico Fellini’s 1957 film Nights of Cabiria, with Gwen
Verdon as the titular lead. The 1966 show, with book by Simon and
choreography by Bob Fosse, ran for 608 performances and spawned a
similarly successful 1969 screen adaptation starring Shirley MacLaine
(which garnered Coleman an Oscar nod). Its score included the standards
“Big Spender” and “If My Friends Could See Me Now.” Sweet Charity received
hit revivals on the Great White Way in 1986, 1995, and 2005, and is among
the most-performed musicals of all time.

(Coleman’s association with MacLaine on the Charity film later led to work
on two CBS TV specials with the multi-talented star. He received Emmy
awards for his work as a writer on If They Could See Me Now [1975] and as
producer of Gypsy In My Soul [1976].)

Coleman and Fields collaborated again on Seesaw, a 1973 musical
adaptation of William Gibson’s Two For the Seesaw. The show, which
featured a Tony-winning turn by Tommy Tune, proved to be Fields’ last:
She died a year after the musical’s premiere.

In the ‘70s and ‘80s, Coleman co-authored a run of Tony-nominated shows
with some gifted lyricists: the comedy of the sexes I Love My Wife (1977,
with Michael Stewart), the screwball comedy On the Twentieth Century
(1978, with Betty Comden and Adolph Green, who shared a best musical
score Tony with Coleman), the biographical spectacle Barnum (1980, with
Stewart), and the tart look at divorce Welcome to the Club (1989, with
A.E. Hotchner).

Coleman’s Broadway career reached an historically unprecedented zenith
when a pair of his shows received successive Tony Awards for both best
musical and best musical score: the film noir-driven City of Angels
(1989, written with David Zippel) and the biographical The Will Rogers
Follies (1991, penned with Comden and Green). Coleman picked up best
score awards for both shows.

The last of the 11 Broadway musicals produced during Coleman’s lifetime
premiered in 1997: The Life, a gritty look at the demimonde of
prostitution in New York’s Times Square of the ‘70s. With lyrics by Ira
Gasman, the show garnered eight Tony nominations and wins for performers
Lillias White and Chuck Cooper.

Before his death at 75 on Nov. 18, 2004, Coleman was showered with
honors, including two lifetime achievement kudos: the Songwriters Hall of
Fame’s Johnny Mercer Award and ASCAP’s Richard Rodgers Award. He was also
elected to the American Theatre Hall of Fame.

In 2009, the Coleman songbook received a fresh consideration on The Best
is Yet to Come. Produced by Dave Palmer and released by New West Records,
the album included new interpretations of Coleman compositions by such
noted female performers as Fiona Apple, Patty Griffin, Nikka Costa, and
Jill Sobule.


Author: DaveHHM

Dave Luttrull: Owner/Editor in Chief of Hellhound Music. Star Wars nerd, Gamer, Destiny homer, blogger, writer and lover of all things music.