Friday, August 31, 2007
ALAN JAY LERNER'S BIRTHDAY
Today would have been Alan Jay Lerner's 89th birthday. What an amazing lyricist, librettist and even screen writer. There wasn't a lot this grand man of theatre could not do. His talent was pure magic. Through a career that spanned three decades, Alan Jay Lerner and his partner, composer Frederick Loewe, became virtually synonymous with the blockbuster Broadway musical. A list of their hits all but defines the genre: "Brigadoon," "Paint Your Wagon," "Camelot," the movie musical GIGI, and their biggest triumph, "My Fair Lady."The tuneful adaptation of George Bernard Shaw's "Pygmalion," "My Fair Lady" opened on Broadway in 1956 to rapturous notices and packed houses. Brooks Atkinson of THE NEW YORK TIMES, for one, proclaimed "My Fair Lady" as "the most civilized play of its time and one of the finest of the century."My Fair Lady" opened on Broadway in 1956 to rapturous notices and packed houses.In the 1970s, after Loewe fell ill, Lerner continued writing with composers including Andre Previn and Charles Strouse, but such subsequent musicals as "Coco" and "Dance a Little Closer" never quite caught on with critics and playgoers. He even attempted to collaborate with the great Richard Rodgers-- but that was simply doomed! In 1978 Lerner produced his wonderful autobiography, ON THE STREET WHERE I LIVE. By then he had quite a story to tell --for he had been married a total of eight times -- but as NEW YORK TIMES critic Mel Gussow noted, "The book is more professional than personal." He continued that the volume's delights include a look at Lerner and Loewe's labors with "My Fair Lady": "dashing off 'The Rain in Spain' in 10 minutes, agonizing over 'I Could Have Danced All Night' ... and agreeing to eliminate 'With a Little Bit O' Luck' until it stopped the show at its first performance in New Haven." At the time of Lerner's death, he had just begun to write lyrics for The Phantom of the Opera, (can you imagine how different that show might be today!) and was replaced by Charles Hart. He had turned down an invitation to write the English-language lyrics for the musical version of Les Miserables. He also had been working with Gerard Kenny in London on a musical version of the classic film My Man Godfrey.Poor dear Alan Lerner had an addictive personality; for more than twenty years he battled an amphetamine addiction, and he would marry eight times. The drugs and divorces cost him much of his wealth. When he died, he reportedly owed the IRS over $1,000,000 (USD) in back taxes. Alan Jay Lerner died from lung cancer in Manhattan at the age of 67. At the time of his death he was married to actress Liz Robertson, who was thirty-six years his junior. I wrote a tribute song to him recently. I had read an article that Liz had written which basically said that marriage was just not good for Alan Jay Lerner-- that he would completely change once married and become a person you seldom recognized. Perhaps she said that "marriage was Alan's way of saying goodbye" And yet despite it all-- for we all have our weaknesses let us salute to the great Alan Jay Lerner!