Who's Who in Musicals:
Lehar to Lupone
by John Kenrick
b. April 30, 1870 (Kom'rom, Hungary) - d. Oct. 24, 1948 (Bad Ischl, Austria)
Lehar studied in Prague (under composer Anton Dvorak, among others) and became a successful conductor in Imperial Vienna. Because his early operetta scores had only limited success, producers of Die Lustige Witwe (1905) -- with libretto by Leo Stein and Victor Leon -- used leftover sets and costumes to minimize the cost of what they expected to be a surefire flop. However, The Merry Widow was an immediate sensation with the Viennese public, and after 300 performances the producers finally paid for a lavish new production. The score was translated into more than a dozen languages, making Lehar an international celebrity. No other musical would know such worldwide popularity until My Fair Lady a half century later.
Lehar's other operettas included The Count of Luxembourg (1909) and The Land of Smiles (1929). He remained in Austria after the Germans marched in, accepting honors from Adolph Hitler. Although he used his influence to save several Jews from persecution (including his wife), research suggests he also encouraged the Nazis to go after several personal enemies. After World War II, Lehar's attempts to disavow any connection to the Nazis rang hollow. Lehar died at age 78, his reputation forever clouded by his political ambivalence.
Lerner, Alan Jay
b. August 31, 1918 (New York City) - d. June 14, 1986 (New York City)
A painstaking craftsman, Lerner wrote lyrics and librettos that were intricate, literate, amusing and moving. Son of a wealthy merchant, Lerner got his start at Harvard providing material for several Hasty Pudding Club Shows. He contributed material to various supper club revues before meeting composer Frederick Loewe in 1942. After the ill-fated Life of the Party (1942) and What's Up? (1943), the short-lived Day Before Spring (1945) brought them increased recognition. Their first major success was Brigadoon (1947), the story of a Scottish town that only appears for one day every century. It included "Almost Like Being in Love" and "There But For You Go I," and became an immediate standard in the musical theatre canon. Paint Your Wagon (1951) told of a miner's daughter finding romance during the California Gold Rush, and featured "I Talk to the Trees" and "They Call the Wind Mariah." During the same years, Lerner collaborated with composer Kurt Weill on the unsuccessful Broadway musical Love Life (1948), wrote the Oscar-winning screenplay for MGM's An American in Paris (1951) and collaborated with composer Burton Lane on the script and score of MGM's Royal Wedding (1951) -- which included the longest copyrighted song title up to that time: "How Could You Believe Me When I Said 'I Love You' When You Know I've Been a Liar All My Life."
Lerner and Loewe reached their creative peak with My Fair Lady (1956), a brilliant adaptation of Shaw's Pygmalion. The story of a British professor teaching a cockney flower girl how to become a lady took Broadway and the world by storm, winning awards and setting records on stage and screen. The score included "I Could Have Danced All Night," "On the Street Where You Live" and "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face." Many, including this author, consider it the finest musical ever written. Lerner and Loewe's film musical Gigi (1958), based on a story by Colette, is one of the finest original screen musicals of all time. Winning nine Academy awards, it put them at the top of their profession for a glorious but brief stay. The underrated Camelot (1960) had such a stormy pre-Broadway gestation that it shattered the health of Lerner, Loewe and director Moss Hart. Loewe opted for retirement, but Lerner spent the rest of his life trying for more hits.
A complicated man, Lerner survived seven marriages, six divorces and a longstanding addiction to amphetamines initially prescribed by a quack physician. Lerner collaborated with Burton Lane On A Clear Day You Can See Forever (1965), Andre Previn on Coco (1969) and Lane again on Carmelina (1979) -- the first two were limited successes, the last an outright failure. He supervised ghastly film versions of Camelot (1967) and Paint Your Wagon (1969), then reunited with Loewe for an unsuccessful stage adaptation of Gigi (1973) and a new score the poorly received film musical The Little Prince (1974). Unbowed, Lerner collaborated with Charles Strouse on the short-lived Dance A Little Closer (1983) before turning down a chance to work on Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera. A heavy smoker, he died of lung cancer at age 67. Lerner lightheartedly claimed that lyric writing was "not an art but a craft, somewhere between photography and basket weaving." In gifted hands, it is an art, and Lerner was one of its masters.
(b. Gladys Lillie)
Comedienne, actress, singer
b. May 29, 1898 (Ontario, Canada) - d. Jan. 20, 1989 (Henley-On-Thames, England)
Born in Canada, Lillie had a wicked way with dialogue, a mastery of physical buffoonery, and a knack for spoofing pompous people and/or situations. She got her start trouping in Canadian variety and British music halls before making her legit debut in the intimate London revues of Andre Charlot. In 1920, she married Robert Peel, who inherited his peerage soon afterward -- making her a bona fide British "Lady." Charlot brought Lillie to New York in several 1920s revues, where she kept audiences howling. Lillie continued to dazzle on both sides of the Atlantic for the next four decades. Her Broadway hits included The Third Little Show (1931), At Home Abroad (1935) Seven Lively Arts (1944) and Inside USA (1948). Her most memorable songs include Noel Coward's "Mad Dogs and Englishmen" and "Marvelous Party," the Schwartz & Dietz showstopper "Paris," and the wry "There Are Fairies At The Bottom of Our Garden."
A brilliant performer, Lillie could be pure hell during the rehearsal process, even for frequent collaborators like Coward. Lillie's status as British nobility gave her frequent cause for pride and amusement. On one occasion, while being fitted for a new clothes in Chicago, she heard an outraged voice complain to her tailor that "Someone had better tell that actress that Mrs. Swift is waiting!" Lillie cried out, "Someone had better tell that butcher's wife that Lady Peel is not done yet!" When Bea's husband Robert died in 1934, his title passed on to their son, who was killed in action during World War II.
After playing "Madame Arcarti" in the Broadway musical High Spirits (1964), Lillie appeared as the comically evil "Mrs. Meers" in Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967), the best filmed reminder of her zany talents. By this time, early signs of Alzheimer's disease made it impossible for Lillie to continue working. That illness and a series of strokes left her wheelchair bound, and longtime companion John Philip Huck kept her isolated from friends and family for decades -- until her death at age 90. Huck's plans to enjoy her fortune were thwarted when he collapsed and died just two days after her.
(b. Matilda Wood)
b. Feb. 12, 1870 (London, UK) - d. Oct. 7, 1922 (London, UK)
One of the greatest English music hall stars, Lloyd was touring the halls by age 15. She alternated such touching ballads as "The Boy I Love Sits Up in the Balcony" with raunchy gigglers like "She Never Had the Ticket Punched Before" and "I Sits Among My Cabbages and Peas." Her signature tune was "My Old Man (Said Follow the Van)," which remains one of the best known songs from the music hall era. Generous and exploding with energy, she developed a legion of devoted fans. Lloyd tried American vaudeville on several occasions, but her charms did not register there as they did back home. When she arrived in New York for an engagement at the Palace, officials detained her for traveling unmarried with a male companion, a habit which no one had objected to in Europe. Her offstage use of frank language led some to dub her "the female Rabelais." Lloyd remained the queen of the music halls for decades, and legendary French actress Sarah Bernhardt once described her as "the most artistic comedienne of the English stage." In the 1920s, heavy drinking compromised her health and weakened her voice. At age 52, Lloyd collapsed while performing and died three days later. Her London funeral was attended by more than 100,000 people.
Lloyd Webber, Andrew
Composer, producer, theatre owner
b. March 22, 1948 (London, UK)
The child of classical musicians, Lloyd Webber began writing musicals at Oxford with fellow student Tim Rice. His enthusiasm for various musical styles was reflected in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (1967), a cantata for schoolchildren that was successfully adapted for the stage and British television. After Lloyd Webber composed the scores for several British films, he and Rice created the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar (1971), a best selling LP which inspired successful stage productions in New York and London. They repeated the same album-to-stage pattern with Evita (1978).
Lloyd Webber and director Trevor Nunn turned T.S. Eliot's Book of Practical Cats poems into Cats (1981), the longest running musical in Broadway and West End history. Because Lloyd Webber's Really Useful Company acted as co-producer, Cats made him a multi-millionaire. After collaborating with lyricist Don Black on Song and Dance (1982) and lyricist Richard Stilgoe on Starlight Express (1984), Lloyd Webber achieved another mega-hit with Phantom of the Opera (1986). With lyrics by the otherwise unknown Charles Hart, Phantom went on to gross over $2 billion worldwide by the century's end. (Claims of plagiarism by the Puccini estate were settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.)
Since then, Lloyd Webber's fortunes have been somewhat mixed. Aspects of Love (1989) and Sunset Boulevard (1993) ran for several seasons each, but lost millions due to high production costs. Ongoing attempts to stage Webber's Whistle Down the Wind have met with indifference. His relatively small scale musical comedy By Jeeves flopped on Broadway after numerous delays, and his football musical The Beautiful Game failed on the West End. He lost millions producing the New York staging of Bombay Dreams. The Woman in White (2004) enjoyed a modest success in London, but was an outright failure in New York. Granted the title of Baron in 1997, Lord Lloyd Webber composed and produced a poorly received sequel to Phantom entitled Love Never Dies, which opened in London in 2010.
b. June 29, 1910 (NYC) - d. July 28, 1969 (NYC)
As a lyricist, Loesser collaborated with composers Jule Styne, Hoagy Carmichael, Burton Lane and others on a numerous film scores. After writing such popular hit songs as "Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition," Loesser made his Broadway debut as composer-lyricist for Where's Charley? (1948) -- "Once in Love With Amy" became an audience favorite. Loesser astounded everyone with his sumptuous score to Guys and Dolls (1950), one of the finest musical comedies ever written. It brought Damon Runyon's mythical world of Times Square hoodlums to endearing life, and captured every major award, bringing Loesser numerous awards, including Tonys for Best Musical and Best Score.
Loesser's versatility was such that no two of his scores sound noticeably alike. Each show displays his mastery of various musical forms and a rare gift for using songs as dramatic tools. Most Happy Fella (1956), a daring combination of opera and musical comedy, never received its full due, and his adventurous Greenwillow (1960) failed. But Loesser's corporate spoof How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1961) ran for years, winning Tonys for Best Score and Musical, as well as a Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Pleasures and Palaces (1965), a musical based on an incidents in the life of Russia's Catherine the Great, closed on the road. A lifetime of heavy smoking contributed to Loesser's death from lung cancer at age 59.
b. June 10, 1904 (Vienna, Austria) - d. Feb. 14, 1988 (Palm Springs)
The son of a leading operetta tenor, Loewe studied composition in Vienna and had an early concert piano career before coming to America with his family in 1924. After his father's sudden death, Lowe supported himself as (among other things) a cowboy and a barroom pianist. He began composing for the theatre in the 1930s, but created nothing noteworthy until his he took a wrong turn at the Lambs Club one day and accidentally met lyricist/librettist Alan Jay Lerner. Their earliest efforts The Life of the Party (1942) and What's Up? (1943) failed, but The Day Before Spring (1945) showed promise and brought the new team some much needed income when MGM bought the film rights. (The film was never made.)
Lerner and Loewe's first hit was Brigadoon (1947), a romantic fantasy with "Almost Like Being in Love." Their Paint Your Wagon (1951) also did well, as did its hit ballads "They Call the Wind Mariah" and "I Talk to the Trees." Loewe's scores were pure Broadway with an elegant continental accent, a fulfillment of the post-Oklahoma musical at its finest. His rich melodic style adapted readily to invoke most any time or setting, making a perfect match for Lerner's carefully crafted lyrics. Together, they could reach musically into the soul of most any character they chose.
My Fair Lady (1956) was Lerner and Loewe's Tony-winning masterpiece. Arguably the finest musical ever written, it included "I Could Have Danced All Night," "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face" and "On the Street Where You Live." The team followed this with the Academy Award-winning film Gigi (1958), which featured a rapturous title tune and the infectious "Thank Heaven for Little Girls." In the wake of these successes, Lerner and Loewe's Broadway musical Camelot (1960) proved to be a tremendous strain. Despite a rich score that included "If Ever I Would Leave You" and a cast that included Richard Burton, Julie Andrews and Robert Goulet, this musical about King Arthur and his Round Table had such a nightmarish road tour that Loewe suffered a massive heart attack and retired from the business. He reunited with Lerner to work on a stage adaptation of Gigi (1973) and the unsuccessful film musical The Little Prince (1974).
Producer, director, librettist, playwright
b. October 5, 1908 (Texarkana, TX) - d. July 12, 1988 (NYC)
After studying acting and stage direction with Stanislavsky, Logan took part in some of the most successful theatrical projects of the 20th Century. He directed I Married an Angel (1938), Knickerbocker Holiday (1938), By Jupiter (1940) and the wartime fundraiser This Is the Army (1942). Then Logan directed four definitive musical hits. Annie Get Your Gun (1946) proved the integrated musical play could be wondrously funny. Logan both directed and co-wrote South Pacific (1949). Wish You Were Here (1952) and Fanny (1954) were both great audience favorites, thanks in large part to Logan's savvy stage direction.
Logan's predilection for displaying buff chorus boys in abbreviated costumes was one of the more eccentric aspects of his otherwise straightforward directorial style. After surviving severe manic depressive episodes at the height of his career, Logan became an early spokesman for the enlightened treatment of mental illness. His non-musical hits included co-producing and directing the stage and screen versions of Mister Roberts (1948/1955 - also co-author) and William Inge's Picnic (1953/1955). All of Logan's later directorial projects were failures, including the stage musicals Mr. President (1962), Look to the Lillies (1970) and Miss Moffat. Logan also directed poor film versions of South Pacific (1958), Camelot (1967) and Paint Your Wagon (1969). His last Broadway project was directing the short lived comedy Horowitz and Mrs. Washington (1980). He was developing a musical version of Huckleberry Finn at the time of his death due to supranuclear palsy at age 79.
b. Sept. 17, 1933 (Boston, MA) - d. Nov. 15, 2003 (New York, NY)
With solid comic timing and a remarkable way with a song, Loudon won rave reviews in a series of musical flops, including Nowhere to Go But Up (1962), The Fig Leaves Are Falling (1969), and Lolita, My Love, which closed in Boston in 1971. She also appeared in plays, and was a favorite in night clubs until her deliciously wicked performance as "Miss Hannigan" in the mega-hit Annie (1976) brought her a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical. She introduced "Little Girls" and the show-stopping "Easy Street." One critic noted, "She mugs with her face, her body I swear, she mugs with her mind." She starred briefly in her own TV sitcom before returning to Broadway as "Bea Asher" in Ballroom (1978). Although her powerful performance was not enough to save the show, she did get to introduce the searing "Fifty Percent."
Loudon enjoyed her greatest non-musical triumph as "Dotty Otley," the actress-maid in the original production of Noises Off (1984). She co-starred with Katherine Hepburn in the comedy West Side Waltz (1981), and with Chita Rivera and Leslie Uggams in Jerry's Girls (1986), a showcase of Jerry Herman's songs. She provided the comic highlights for several Tony telecasts, and was featured in the unsuccessful stage revue Comedy Tonight (1995). Loudon's television appearances included Sondheim: A Celebration at Carnegie Hall (1992) and My Favorite Broadway: The Leading Ladies (1999), both broadcast on PBS. She played "Serena Dawes" in the screen version of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1997). Cast as the formidable "Carlotta Vance" in a Lincoln Center revival of Dinner at Eight (2002), Loudon was forced to withdraw during previews and died of cancer less than a year later at age 70, hailed as one of Broadway's most gifted comediennes.
b. April 21, 1949 (Northport, NY)
After training at Julliard and in The Actor's Company, LuPone had featured roles in the admired flop musicals Robber Bridegroom (1975), Baker's Wife (1976) where she introduced Stephen Schwartz's "Meadowlark" and Working (1978). LuPone's luck changed when she landed the title role in the Broadway production of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's Evita (1979), winning the Tony for Best Actress in a Musical. After appearing in off-Broadway and London revivals of The Cradle Will Rock (1985), she played Nancy in an unsuccessful Broadway revival of Oliver (1984). LuPone was the first American actress to play a principal role with the Royal Shakespeare Company originating the role of Fantine in the London production of Les Miserables (1985), and introducing "I Dreamed a Dream."
LuPone returned to Broadway as Reno Sweeney in the acclaimed Lincoln Center revival of Anything Goes (1987), followed by several seasons on the TV drama series Life Goes On. She created the role of Norma Desmond in the London premiere of Webber's Sunset Boulevard (1993). When Webber abruptly canceled LuPone's contract for the Broadway version, she won headlines with an undisclosed settlement. After starring in an acclaimed 1995 NY concert version of Pal Joey, she triumphed with a personal concert run on Broadway. She took over the lead in the New York (1996) and London (1997) casts of Master Class, and played Mrs. Lovett in the NY and LA Philharmonic concert versions of Sweeney Todd (2001) -- a role she would repeat to great acclaim in the 2005 Broadway revival.
LuPone won fresh raves as Dottie in the hit Broadway revival of Noises Off (2002), gave impressive performances in two more PBS concerts -- as a hilarious Old Woman in Bernsteins's Candide (2005), and a powerful Fosca in Sondheim's Passion (2005). She also earned raves as Pistache in the 2004 Encores staging of Porter's Can-Can, and her rendition of "I Love Paris" marked the only time audiences have ever demanded and gotten spontaneous encores in that concert series. LuPone triumphed as Rose in the 2007 Broadway revival of Gypsy, winning nightly standing ovations and a second Tony for what many considered the performance of a lifetime. She also starred in the poorly received Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (2010).