Who's Who in Musicals: Bo-Bu
by John Kenrick
b. Nov. 23, 1928 (New Haven, CT) - Nov. 3, 2010 (Westchester, NY)
After working in television for several years, Bock teamed with lyricist Larry Holofcener to contribute songs to the Broadway revue Catch a Star (1955). George Weiss assisted them with the score for Mr. Wonderful (1956), and Bock and Holofcener ended their partnership with an unsuccessful Shubert-produced edition of the Ziegfeld Follies (1956). Bock then collaborated with lyricist Sheldon Harnick on the boxing musical The Body Body Beautiful (1958). Although unsuccessful, it was the beginning of a long and productive partnership. Their next show was Fiorello (1959), a Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical biography of New York's beloved Mayor LaGuardia. The score included the showstopping "Politics and Poker," the ravishing ballad "When Did I Fall In Love?," and the comic lament "I Love a Cop."
Bock & Harnick specialized in bringing historic characters & settings to life. Their Tenderloin (1960) looked at political corruption 1890s Manhattan, including the comic ballad "Artificial Flowers." The charming She Loves Me (1963), based on the play The Shop Around the Corner, was set in 1930s Budapest. Its score included "Ice Cream" and "Will He Like Me?" for Barbara Cook, as well as the hilarious ensemble number "Twelve Days to Christmas." Bock & Harnick followed this with Fiddler on the Roof (1964). With book by Joseph Stein, it was one of the finest musicals in theatrical history. Based on Sholom Alechem's Tevye stories, this story of Jewish life in Tsarist Russia won the Tony for Best Musical and became the longest running Broadway musical up to its time. "Tradition," "Matchmaker, Matchmaker," "If I Were a Rich Man" and "Sunrise, Sunset" were translated into more than a dozen languages as the show was produced all around the world.
Bock and Harnick contributed several songs to Baker Street (1965) before composing The Apple Tree (1966), an unusual trio of allegorical one-act musicals. After writing two songs for the ill-fated Her First Roman (1968), they ended their collaboration with The Rothschilds (1970), a moving look at the birth of the European banking dynasty. In the years that followed, Bock worked on various projects that did not reach Broadway, including a musical adaptation of It's A Wonderful Life written with lyricist Joe Raposo. Just ten days after speaking at the funeral of collaborator Joe Stein, Bock died of heart failure at age 81.
Actor, dancer, singer
b. Jan. 10, 1904 (Boston, Mass.) - d. Jan. 15, 1987 (Los Angeles, CA)
After getting his start in touring companies and vaudeville, this slender, eccentric dancer appeared in several Broadway revues, including George White's Scandals and Life Begins at 8:40. His first starring role was Junior Dolan in Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart's On Your Toes (1936), where George Balanchine showcased Bolger in the "Slaughter on 10th Avenue" Ballet. MGM brought Bolger out to Hollywood, where he played supporting roles in such films as The Great Ziegfeld (1936) and Sweethearts (1938). He made his most memorable screen appearance as The Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz (1939) singing "If I Only Had a Brain." Bolger's rubber-legged dance style was also effectively showcased in Stage Door Canteen (1943), where he performed a Rodgers & Hart specialty entitled "The Girl I Love to Leave Behind."
Bolger returned to Broadway to star in Rodgers & Hart's final hit, By Jupiter (1942). As Sapiens, the rebellious husband of an Amazon warrior, he introduced the hilarious "Now That I've Got My Strength" and shared "Ev'rything I've Got" with Benay Venuta. Bolger introduced the show-stopping "That Old Soft Shoe" in the revue Three to Make Ready (1946). He had his biggest stage success in Frank Loesser's Where's Charley (1948), which became a smash hit after Bolger started coaxing audiences into singing along during "Once In Love With Amy." He stole the film Look for the Silver Lining (1949) with his rendition of "Who," and starred in a rarely seen British screen version of Where's Charley (1952). He introduced the touching ballad "Once Upon a Time" in Broadway's ill-fated All American (1962), playing a Russian professor who winds up coaching football at an American university.
Bolger's last stage musical was the short-lived Come Summer (1964), where he played a traveling salesman. He continued to make concert and TV appearances in his final years, and was one of the narrators of MGM's That's Entertainment (1974). His real-life "Amy" was Gwendolyn Rickard, who he was married to from 1929 until his death due to bladder cancer at age 83. Fans the world over mourned the passing of the last leading cast member of MGM's Wizard of Oz.
b. Nov. 23, 1884 (Broxbourne, UK) - d. Sept. 6, 1979 (London, UK)
Originally an architect who wrote songs in in his spare time, Bolton teamed with fellow lyricist P.G. Wodehouse and composer Jerome Kern to create a series of musicals for Broadway's most intimate house. The Princess Theatre shows included Oh Boy (1917), Leave It to Jane (1917) and Oh, Lady! Lady! (1918) -- neatly integrated book musicals that placed believable American characters in common situations. While some sources overstate the historic importance of these shows, the series established its creators as leading theatrical writers. Over the next few years, Bolton worked with Kern and assorted co-lyricists on more than a dozen other shows, including Very Good Eddie (1915), Marilyn Miller's smash-hit Sally (1920) and the charming but short-lived Sitting Pretty (1924).
As a recognized master of lighthearted musical comedy librettos, Bolton collaborated with George and Ira Gershwin on Lady Be Good (1924), Oh Kay (1928) and Girl Crazy (1930). During the same period, Bolton wrote the books for dozens of London and New York shows, many with co-librettist Fred Thompson. He co-authored Anything Goes (1934) with Wodehouse before handing the project over to newcomers Howard Lindsay and Russell Crouse for completion. Bolton scored with wartime musical comedies like Follow the Girls (1944), but he was unable to adjust in the post-Oklahoma era. After a decade on the sidelines, he tried the old 'bring on the girls' formula once more in the unsuccessful Ankles Aweigh (1955). He single-handedly revised Anything Goes for a hit Off-Broadway revival in 1962. After the failure of Anya (1965), Bolton returned to England and bought a home near that of Wodehouse, and the old collaborators remained close until Bolton's death at age 94.
b. Mar. 5, 1941 (Tunis)
Inspired by the success of Lloyd Webber & Rice's Jesus Christ Superstar, Boublil and composer Claude-Michel Schonberg collaborated on a rock opera, La Revolution Francaise (1973). Like Superstar, a studio recording led to a well-received stage production. They repeated this pattern with Abbacadabra (1983), a children's musical using songs by the rock group Abba. With a clear preference for epic, romantic tales, Boublil and Schonberg created a musical adaptation of Victor Hugo's novel Les Miserables. It also began as a recording, had a Paris staging in 1980, and was translated into English for a 1985 London production that ran into the 2010's. The Broadway version received the Tony for Best Musical in 1987, and ran into the early 2000's. Affectionately known as Les Miz, it has been produced worldwide, and remains an audience favorite.
Schonberg and Boublil next reset the tragedy of Madame Butterfly in the maelstrom of the Vietnam War, and entitled it Miss Saigon. Written in English (in collaboration with Richard Maltby), it premiered in London in 1989 and reached Broadway in 1991, enjoying long runs in both cities. Like Les Miz, it has toured the world with tremendous success. Schonberg and Boublil's Martin Guerre has had several productions but never reached New York, and their The Pirate Queen had a two week Broadway run in 2007.
b. Feb. 10, 1898 (Augsburg, Germany) - d. Aug. 14, 1956 (Berlin, Germany)
Brecht got his start as a lyricist, performing his own songs in German cabarets. While writing many outstanding plays (Good Woman of Setzuan, Mother Courage, etc.), he also created several innovative musical theatre pieces with composer Kurt Weill. These works were built around Brecht's belief that one had to thoroughly entertain an audience before enlightening it. Brecht and Weill's gangster-land musical Happy End (1929) and full-fledged opera The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny (1929) premiered in Germany to mixed receptions. Their second opera, Das Jasager (1930), did poorly.
Brecht & Weill's The Threepenny Opera, with its tale of the murderous thief Macheath thriving in a corrupt society, became an international sensation. Premiering in Berlin in 1928, it was acclaimed all across Europe before receiving unsuccessful productions in London and New York in the 1930's. The score included "The Ballad of Mack the Knife," which described a series of gory crimes set to an infectious melody.
Brecht emigrated to the United States in 1941 to escape Nazi persecution. A longtime communist sympathizer, he resettled in East Berlin six years later, where he openly supported the pro-Soviet government. In his final years, he saw new interest in his works, including a record-setting Off-Broadway production of Threepenny Opera that opened in 1954. Two years later, Brecht died of a heart attack at age 58. Decades after his passing, Happy End won acclaim on Broadway, Mahagonny received successful productions by the NY Metropolitan and English National Opera companies, and Threepenny Opera continues to be revived.
b. Feb. 17, 1877 (St. John's, Newfoundland) - d. Dec 22, 1948 (Great Neck, NY)
This handsome tenor was working in a Boston machine shop when began performing with a vocal quartette at age 16. Brian soon joined a theatrical troupe and toured extensively before trying his luck in New York, where he eventually won major roles in more than 20 Broadway musicals. He got his start in several replacement casts, including leading roles in On the Wabash (1899) and the long-running Florodora (1902). Featured in George M. Cohan's Little Johnny Jones (1904) and 45 Minutes From Broadway (1906), he is best remembered for portraying Prince Danilo in the first Broadway production of Franz Lehar's international hit The Merry Widow (1907). Waltzing with co-star Ethel Jackson, Brian's black wavy hair and warm brown eyes helped make him one of New York's most popular matinee idols, a classification that he supposedly loathed.
After starring in The Dollar Princess (1909), Brian co-starred with soprano Julia Sanderson in The Siren (1911). Their chemistry was so popular that they were re-teamed for The Girl From Utah (1914), introducing Jerome Kern's landmark hit song "They Didn't Believe Me." Sanderson and Brian ended their string of hits with Sybil (1916), a now-forgotten musical that delighted audiences of that time. Brian starred in a revival of The Chocolate Soldier (1921), Up She Goes (1922) and the national tour of No, No, Nanette (1926). After joining the cast of Kern's Music in the Air (1933), Brian made his final musical stage appearance in Kern's last Broadway musical, Very Warm For May (1939). Much loved by his fellow performers, he served for many years as president of the Catholic Actor's Guild.
(b. Fania Borach)
b. Oct. 29, 1891 (New York City) - d. May 29, 1951 (Hollywood, CA)
The quintessential "Ziegfeld star" was not a long-legged showgirl, but a gifted vocalist and comedienne. Beginning in burlesque, Brice built a reputation for dialect comedy (performing with a trademark Yiddish accent), show business parody and outrageous physical clowning. She could also sing tragic love songs to heartbreaking effect. After making her first appearance in Florenz Ziegfeld's Follies in 1910, she was featured in nine more editions, as well as several editions of Ziegfeld's Midnight Frolic revue. Brice introduced numerous songs in these productions, included "My Man, "Second Hand Rose" and "Rose of Washington Square." After her rocky marriage to petty criminal Nick Arnstein, she had an ultimately unhappy marriage with producer-songwriter Billy Rose.
Brice starred in several disappointing early talking films. The best surviving visual record of her work is Be Yourself (1930), which preserves several of her classic routines, including cavorting as a "Swan Lake" ballerina. Her later years were spent playing the outrageous Baby Snooks (a character she first created in a Follies sketch) on NBC Radio. She died of a cerebral hemorrhage at age 59.
Fanny's life story has inspired several musicals, including the thinly disguised film Rose of Washington Square (1939), the stage and screen hit Funny Girl (NY 1964 - filmed 1968), and the sequel film Funny Lady (1975). An Evening With Fanny Brice delighted off-Broadway audiences using many of the songs Fanny actually performed. There have been several fine biographies of Brice, but we recommend Herbert G. Goldman's Fanny Brice: The Original Funny Girl (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992). For more on the real facts in Brice's life story, you can also see our special feature Funny Girl Debunked.
Lyricist, librettist, composer
b. Jan. 29, 1931 (London, UK)
Bricusse's versatile gift for melody and catchy lyrics kept his works popular through the last four decades of the 20th Century. He composed his first musical in college, and worked for several years as a screenwriter before seeing some of his songs become British pop hits in the late 1950s. While appearing in a revue with Bea Lillie, he collaborated with singer-songwriter Anthony Newley on the innovative musical Stop the World I Want to Get Off (1961). In an unusual arrangement, both men contributed words and music, telling the story of "Littlechap" (played by Newley), a common man up against the world. With the hit songs "What Kind of Fools Am I" and "Once in a Lifetime," the show enjoyed profitable runs in London and New York. Bricusse collaborated with Cyril Ornadel on the London hit Pickwick (1963) -- which included "If I Ruled the World" -- before reuniting with Newley to compose the score for The Roar of the Greasepaint ' The Smell of the Crowd (1965), another "little man against the world" tale that reached Broadway co-starring Newley and Cyril Ritchard. That score included "On a Wonderful Day Like Today."
Bricusse and Newley composed the title tunes for several James Bond films, and the complete score for the screen musical Doctor Doolittle (1967) including the Academy Award winning song "If I Could Talk to the Animals." Their film score for Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) included "The Candy Man," which became a pop hit for Sammy Davis, Jr. After composing a poorly received TV version of Peter Pan (1971), Bricusse and Newley collaborated on the London musical The Good Old Bad Old Days (1972), pitting (what else?) a "little man" against the powers of heaven and hell. On his own, Bricusse wrote the score for a screen musical version of Goodbye Mr. Chips (1969), which he adapted for a British stage production in 1982.
Bricusse composed an outstanding score for the screen musical Scrooge (1970), which he later turned into a British stage vehicle for longtime friend Newley. His Sherlock Holmes (1989) failed in London, despite a promising score. Bricusse shared a well-deserved Academy Award with composer Henry Mancini for the score to Victor/Victoria (1982). He also contributed the book and lyrics for Frank Wildhorn's long-running Broadway version of Jekyll & Hyde (1997). Constipated critics treated his work harshly, but audiences never stopped applauding. He worked on commercially successful stage adaptations of his existing screen hits, bringing Victor/Victoria to Broadway and Doctor Doolittle to the West End.
(b. Taidje Khano, later Youl Bryner)
b. July 11, 1911 or 1915 (Sakhalin, Russia) - d. Oct. 10, 1985 (New York City)
(Please note that due to sketchy documentation, our knowledge of Brynner's early years relies heavily on his sometimes outlandish personal claims.) One of the most colorful personalities in 20th Century show business, Brynner was the son of a Mongolian father and a Romany Gypsy mother. Raised in Beijing and Paris, he ran away from his family to become an acrobat, folk singer and repertory actor -- and somehow found time to earn a degree from the Sorbonne. (See what I mean?)
After touring the United States in Michael Checkov's theatre company, Brynner made his Broadway musical debut opposite Mary Martin as "Tsai-Yong" in Lute Song (1946), and repeated the role two years later in London. Six feet tall and weighing 175 pounds, his exotic, muscular good looks and sonorous voice made him a distinctive stage presence. Martin urged Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II to audition Brynner for an exotic new project. Strumming a guitar and singing a Russian folk song, he won the role of "King Mongkut," the Siamese monarch who tries to modernize himself and his nation in The King and I (1951). His charismatic performance opposite co-star Gertrude Lawrence proved to be the defining event of Brynner's career. After winning a Tony for Best Featured Actor in a Musical, he repeated the role on tour and in the 1956 film version, for which he earned the Oscar for Best Actor. In so doing, Brynner became the first person to win both a Tony and an Oscar for the same musical role -- to date only Rex Harrison and Joel Grey have repeated this double honor.
Also in 1956, Brynner established himself as a top-rank dramatic star in the hit films Anastasia and The Ten Commandments. After concentrating on screen roles for the next two decades, Brynner returned to the stage. He toured in the musical Odysseus for over a year, before it was re-titled Home Sweet Homer (1975) for its one-night Broadway run. Undaunted, he soon re-conquered Broadway in a triumphant revival of The King and I (1977), and spent his remaining years touring that show to packed houses in America and Britain. Brynner's demanding contract (which is set a new standard for touring stars) required freshly painted dressing rooms in every city and a detailed grocery list for his hotel room. Diagnosed with terminal lung cancer in 1983, Brynner continued touring, ending with a final Broadway bow in 1985. He had played the King more than 4,000 times. After Brynner's death later that year, the American Lung Association ran a series of powerful TV ads in which Brynner pleaded with smokers to break the habit that had killed him.
Actor, singer, dancer, producer, director
b. April 2, 1891 (Helensburgh, Scotland) - d. Oct. 20, 1957 (London, UK)
"The British Fred Astaire" got his start in Scottish music halls before making a West End debut in the chorus of Tonight's the Night (1915). He starred in producer Andre Charlot's revue A to Z (1921), where he introduced Ivor Novello's hit song "And Her Mother Came Too." He made his Broadway debut with Gertrude Lawrence and Bea Lillie in Andre Charlot's Revue (1924), returning to New York in another Charlot revue two years later. After appearing in the London production of Jerome Kern's Sunny (1926) with Binnie Hale, Buchanan co-starred in a series of nine popular West End musical comedies with Elsie Randolph, including Wake Up and Dream (1929), Mr. Wittington (1934) and It's Time to Dance (1943). He took over the lead of King's Rhapsody in 1951. All told, Buchanan appeared in more than twenty five London musicals and four Broadway productions.
Buchanan starred in the early Hollywood screen musicals Paris (1929) and Monte Carlo (1930), but American producers felt that his singing voice was too nasal for the sound equipment of that time. He proved this was nonsense with his popular performances in more than a dozen British screen comedies, including Brewster's Millions (1935). He is best remembered for his brilliant performance as the egotistical director Jeff Cordova in MGM's classic The Bandwagon (1953). To understand the appeal of Buchanan's elegant, nonchalant style, one need only see him perform "I Guess I'll Have To Change My Plan" with Fred Astaire -- two masters of high style at their best. Buchanan made his final stage appearance co-starring with Dorothy Dickson in the London comedy As Long As They're Happy (1953), and appeared in several British screen comedies until spinal arthritis brought his career to a halt in 1955. He died of spinal cancer two years later at age 66.
(b. Edward Eugene Buck)
Lyricist, librettist, director
b. Aug. 8, 1885 (Detroit, Michigan) - d. Feb. 25, 1957 (Great Neck, NY)
This art school graduate was designing sheet music covers when he was somehow selected to write special material for producer Florenz Ziegfeld's longtime mistress Lillian Lorraine. Efficient and cool-headed, Buck quickly became Ziegfeld's right hand man, writing lyrics and skits, and even directing several editions of the Follies. He worked on most editions between 1911 and 1931, all the while contributing material to other Ziegfeld productions. He provided lyrics for such tunesmiths as Jerome Kern and Victor Herbert, but wrote most of his songs with Ziegfeld's reliable but uninspired staff composer David Stamper. Buck's best remembered song is "Hello Frisco," with music by Louis Hirsch. Admired by his peers, Buck was a co-founder of the American Society of Composers and Publishers (ASCAP), and served as the group's president from 1924 to 1941.
Buckley, Betty Lynn
b. July 3, 1947 (Big Springs, TX)
This powerhouse belter went straight from regional theater to her Broadway debut, creating the role of Martha Jefferson in 1776 (1969). Her ringing rendition of "He Plays the Violin" made her an instant favorite. Before the year was out, she left to star in the London production of Promises, Promises. During the 1970s, Buckley appeared in several replacement casts, and was featured in several films -- most notably, playing a teacher in the 1976 horror classic Carrie. For several seasons, she played a mother on the popular TV series Eight is Enough. Buckley returned to the stage as the bedraggled feline Grizabella in the Broadway production of Cats (1983), winning a Tony with her moving rendition of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Memory."
Buckley donned male drag to play the title role in The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1985). She played the title character's mother in the disastrous Broadway musical version of Carrie (1988), and won rave reviews when she took over the role of Norma Desmond in both the London and New York productions of Lloyd Webber's Sunset Boulevard in the mid-1990s. She played the royal tutor Hesione in the ill-fated Triumph of Love (1997), and starred as Mama Rose in an acclaimed Paper Mill Playhouse revival of Gypsy the following year. Buckley has made numerous concert appearances on both sides of the Atlantic, and her clarion voice can be heard on several solo recordings.
Librettist, playwright, director
b. Dec. 18, 1910 (New York, NY) - d. May 17, 1985 (NYC)
After many years as a top comedy writer for network radio, Burrows made his Broadway debut penning the libretto for Guys and Dolls (1950), one of the finest musical comedy scripts ever written (with an equally glorious score by Frank Loesser). Overnight, Burrows became one of the most sought after librettists on Broadway. His somewhat less impressive efforts in Make A Wish (1951) and Three Wishes For Jamie (1952) were followed by the success of Cole Porter's Can Can (1953) -- which Burrows also directed -- and Silk Stockings (1955). As a director, he successfully helmed the delightful revue Two On the Aisle (1951) and the middling Ethel Merman vehicle Happy Hunting (1956).
As both writer and director, Burrows was unable to breathe much life into the backstage spoof Say Darling (1958) or a musical version of Pride and Prejudice entitled First Impressions (1959). But he had no trouble writing and directing the Pulitzer Prize winning hit How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1961), his second and final collaboration with Loesser. Burrows directed the so-so What Makes Sammy Run? (1964), and was one of many who tried to save the ill-fated musical version of Breakfast at Tiffany's (1966) -- which closed in previews. He revised the libretto for and directed the revival of Good News (1974), which toured for a year before a disappointing Broadway run.
Burrows was a popular "show doctor," called into unofficially assist troubled productions -- we will never know exactly how many musicals owed their best laughs to him. His final directorial efforts were a clumsy touring update of Hellzapoppin (1976), and a poorly received Broadway revival of Can Can (1981). His son James Burrows is the director/writer for such long running sitcoms as Taxi, Night Court, Cheers, Frasier, Friends and Will & Grace. For more, see the breezy autobiography Honest Abe: Is There Really No Business Like Show Business? (Boston: Little Brown & Co., 1980).