Who's Who in Musicals: Sa-Sm
by John Kenrick
(b. Everett Lester McKenzie)
Comic, female impersonator, vaudevillian
b. Jan. 7, 1876 (Boston, MA) - d. June 26, 1923 (Long Beach, NY)
This onetime chorus boy stumbled into female impersonation, perfecting his art in the rough and tumble variety houses of Alaska and the Yukon. Savoy eventually made it to New York, where he teamed up with chorus dancer (and former drag performer) Jay Brennan. Their two person vaudeville act consisted of Savoy in lavish gowns dispensing witty, girlish gossip about a fictional friend named Margie while the handsome Brennan sat to one side playing (you should pardon the expression) straight man.
Savoy and Brennan headlined at the Palace, were featured in Ziegfeld's 1918 Follies, and starred in several editions of John Murray Anderson's Greenwich Village Follies (1920-23). Savoy's exaggerated mannerisms and suggestive humor were widely imitated, and his provocative, hip-swaying walk was later borrowed by Mae West -- along with "come up sometime and see me," a standard line in Savoy's stage banter. Few knew that he married Annie Krehmker in 1905. Unlike most female impersonators of his era, Savoy was outrageously effeminate offstage as well as on. While strolling along a Long Island beach in the summer of 1923, a loud clap of thunder led him to observe, "Ain't Miss God cutting up something awful?" Seconds later, a bolt of lightning struck him dead at age 47 which still rates as one of the most theatrical exits of all time.
b. July 6, 1944 (Vannes, France)
Schonberg was active in the French music business as a songwriter and record producer when he began writing with lyricist/librettist Alain Boubil. The success of their musical La Revolution Francaise (1973) led them to develop an even more ambitious pop opera based on Victor Hugo's classic novel Les Miserables (1980). The concept album and smash-hit Parisian production of this epic work attracted the kind of international attention no French musical had known since the days of Jacques Offenbach. An English translation achieved phenomenal success in London (1985) and New York (1987), winning every major award, running well over a decade in both cities and spawning companies all over the world.
Schonberg and Boubil had similar international success with Miss Saigon (1989), which re-set the plot of Puccini's Madama Butterfly in 1970s Vietnam. The London production became the longest running show ever to play the prestigious Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Although the team's adaptation of Martin Guerre (1996) had a decent London run, it suffered from poor reviews and never made it to Broadway. Their Pirate Queen (2007) lasted less than a month on Broadway, and Marguerite (2008) disappeared after a brief West End run. Schonberg and Boubil have also collaborated on several non-theatrical symphonic works.
Composer, film producer
b. Nov. 25, 1900 (Brooklyn, NY) - d. Sept. 3, 1984 (New York City)
Forced by his family into a career in law, Schwartz secretly began composing with friend Larry Hart. Schwartz was soon introduced to lyricist (and MGM publicity whiz) Howard Dietz, and they turned out the score for the Broadway revue The Little Show (1929), including the hit song "I Guess I'll Have to Change My Plan." Schwartz and Dietz provided noteworthy songs for numerous 1930s stage revues, including "Something to Remember You By" for Three's a Crowd (1930), "Dancing in the Dark" for The Band Wagon (1931), "You and the Night and the Music" for Flying Colors (1932) and "By Myself" for Between the Devil (1937). Schwartz finally set aside his legal career to become a Hollywood producer in the 1940s and 1950s, but he occasionally composed new projects.
Schwartz's melodies ranged from sophisticated minor key ballads to raucous barroom polkas, always well-tailored to fit a specific skit, performer or character. After he and Dietz created the stage revue Inside the USA (1948), they wrote the hit song "That's Entertainment" for MGM's screen version of The Band Wagon (1953). Schwartz worked with lyricist Dorothy Fields on the scores for two Broadway hits starring Shirley Booth A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1951) and By the Beautiful Sea (1954). Schwartz's acclaimed TV musical High Tor (1956) had lyrics by Maxwell Anderson and starred Bing Crosby and Julie Andrews. Schwartz reunited with Dietz to compose a TV version of A Bell for Adano (1956), as well as tuneful scores for the short-lived Broadway musicals The Gay Life (1961) and Jennie (1963). When the effects of Parkinson's forced Dietz to stop working in the early 1960s, Schwartz opted to retire.
b. March 6, 1948 (NYC)
After contributing the title song to Butterflies Are Free (1969), Schwartz wrote the score for Godspell (1971), a pop rock look at the Gospels that ran for more than 2,600 performances in New York and was produced successfully all over the world. Schwartz's scores graced the long-running Broadway hits Pippin (1972) and The Magic Show (1974). Although his Baker's Wife (1976) closed out of town, a delightful cast recording helped make it a cult classic.
Schwartz'ss Working (1978), Rags (1986) and Children of Eden (1991 - London) failed despite high quality scores. Collaborating with composer Alan Menken, Schwartz provided the exceptional lyrics for Disney's Pocahontas (1995) and Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996). His solo score for the animated Prince of Egypt (1998) made little impression, but critics applauded his live action TV musical Gepetto (2000). Schwartz provided music and lyrics for the Oz-inspired hit Wicked (2003), which overcame mixed reviews to become a massive hit.
(b. Vivienne Sonia Segal)
b. April 19, 1897 (Philadelphia, PA) - d. Dec. 29, 1992 (Los Angeles, CA)
This ravishing, classically trained soprano voice made her Broadway debut at age 18, singing "Auf Weidersehn" in Sigmund Romberg's The Blue Paradise (1915). An immediate sensation, she appeared in Kern's Oh, Lady! Lady! (1917) and the 1924 Ziegfeld Follies. She became the queen of American operetta, starring as Margot in Romberg's The Desert Song (1926) and Constance in Rudolph Friml's Three Musketeers (1928).
Segal went to Hollywood for the Romberg- Oscar Hammerstein II film Viennese Nights (1930). While there, she met Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. Sensing that tastes were changing, she shifted gears and returned to Broadway to star in three Rodgers and Hart musical comedy hits. She played "Peggy" in I Married an Angel (1938), and introduced "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" as wealthy matron "Vera Simpson" in the daring Pal Joey (1940).
When Segal agreed to appear as evil "Morgan LeFay" in the revival of A Connecticut Yankee, the composers gave her the showstopping "To Keep My Love Alive" which turned out to be Hart's final lyric. After starring in two forgettable failures, Segal triumphed as Vera in a revival of Pal Joey (1952). Starring opposite Harold Lang (and later his understudy, newcomer Bob Fosse), she saw this acclaimed production outrun the original. She made occasional appearances on television before quietly settling into an extended retirement.
Sherman, Richard M.
b. June 12, 1928 (New York City)
Sherman, Robert B.
b. Dec. 19, 1925 (New York City) - d. March 5, 2012 (London)
These two brothers turned out a series of popular film scores for Walt Disney, beginning with songs for the Haley Mills vehicles The Parent Trap (1961) and In Search of the Castaways (1962). Their Academy Award winning score for Mary Poppins (1964) included "A Spoonful of Sugar" (introduced by Julie Andrews) "Let's Go Fly a Kite," "Super-cali-fragilistic-expi-ali-docious" and "Chim-chim Cheree" (which won the Oscar for Best Song). Their jaunty melodies and tongue twisting lyrics appealed to children and adults.
The Shermans worked on the last two films personally supervised by Walt Disney the animated classic The Jungle Book (1967) with the Oscar-nominated song "Bare Necessities," and the less successful live action musical The Happiest Millionaire (1967). After providing songs for the underrated Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1968), they left the Disney studio to compose Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968), returning to Disney for the animated Aristocats (1970).
Their independent post-Disney films include a charming animated version of Charlotte's Web (1972), live action versions of Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer (1972) and Huckleberry Finn (1973), and the Cinderella remake The Slipper and the Rose (1976). They brought the surviving Andrew Sisters to Broadway in the nostalgic World War II musical Over There (1974). In the mid-1990s, their stage musical Busker Alley (adapted from the British film St. Martin's Lane) closed on the road, starring its director Tommy Tune. A stage adaptation of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang succeeded in London (2004) and reached Broadway a year later, and a Disney-produced stage version of Mary Poppins has enjoyed long runs and extensive tours on both sides of the Atlantic. The documentary The Boys: The Sherman Brothers Story (2010) revealed that the Shermans had grown to dislike each other and were estranged for many years. Robert died in 2012 after a prolonged illness.
b. July 3, 1937 (Buffalo, NY)
While studying music at Yale, Shire collaborated with lyricist Richard Maltby Jr. on a series of unsuccessful musicals that eventually formed the basis for two popular Off-Broadway revues Starting Here, Starting Now (1977) and Closer Than Ever (1989). Broadway has seen their innovative Baby (1983) and the disappointing Big (1996). On his own, Shire has written dozens of television and feature film scores, including All The President's Men and Norma Rae (Academy Award for Best Song "It Goes Like It Goes").
(b. Hubert Short)
Stage director, set designer, lighting designer
b. Oct. 15, 1877 (Edington, UK) - d. Oct. 9, 1956 (Nice, France)
After working as an actor in both London and New York, Short's stylish staging of several forgettable musical comedies led to directorial work on three hit Music Box Revues for Irving Berlin and the Shubert Brothers in 1921, 1922, and 1923. With his all-encompassing eye for coordinated stage activity, eye-catching decor and creative lighting, Short built a reputation as a top notch director of musical theatre. He directed the long-running Marilyn Miller hit Sunny (1925), and redefined the revue format with his work on The Band Wagon (1931) and on Irving Berlin & Moss Hart's musicalized newspaper As Thousands Cheer (1933). Using an approach common at the time, Short sometimes staged only the musical sequences, leaving skits or "book scenes" in the hands of collaborators.
Short direction did much to repair composer Jerome Kern's so-so staging of Roberta (1933), turning a likely flop into a profitable Depression-era hit. Short also surprised many by turning the gargantuan The Great Waltz (1934) into a profitable success on both sides of the Atlantic -- even though the expanded New York staging was believed to be the most expensive Broadway production up to that time. He then scored an intimate success with Cole Porter's royal-themed musical comedy Jubilee (1935). Short went on to direct the groundbreaking Lady in the Dark (1941), the wartime frolic Something for the Boys (1943) and the daring Carmen Jones (1943). After staging a colorful revival of Show Boat (1946), his late hits included a return to his creative roots with the intimate revue Make Mine Manhattan (1948). Working into the early 1950s, he eventually staged more than 40 Broadway productions. A homosexual in a relentlessly closeted era, Short maintained a low profile in his private life, enjoying a longterm relationship with chorus dancer Billy Ladd.
(b. Samuel Szemanski)
b. 1876 (Lithuania) - d. May 11, 1905 (Pennsylvania)
(b. Levi Szemanski)
b. May 15, 1873 (Lithuania) - d. Dec. 25, 1953 (New York City)
Shubert, Jacob (J.J.)
(b. Jacob Szemanski)
b. Aug. 15, 1878 (Lithuania) - d. Dec. 26, 1963 (New York City)
Theater owners, producers
Though by no means creative men, the Shuberts did much to define the business of American theater (musical and otherwise) in the 20th Century. After immigrating from Russia to escape anti-Jewish persecution, the three brothers found their father crippled by alcoholism. They were forced to support their mother and sister by finding whatever work they could. Sam ran errands for the Schenectady Opera House, where a sympathetic house manager invited him inside on an icy night. Sam watched a touring production of The Black Crook, and was os dazzled that he realized his future was in the theater. Within months, Sam was the box office manager and in a few years, he and his brothers owned the Opera House as well as a controlling interest in several other local theaters.
The Shubert Brothers openly competed with A.L. Erlanger's Theatrical Syndicate, a powerful monopoly that controlled the bookings for most of the theaters in the United States. When Sam died in a 1905 train wreck, Erlanger coldly refused to abide by any agreements "with a dead man." Lee and Jacob swore vengeance, and launched a long and vicious feud that eventually destroyed the syndicate and made the Shuberts the most powerful figures in the legitimate theater. More ruthless than Erlanger, they were soon just as hated. Their unscrupulous treatment of actors unintentionally encouraged the formation of the Actor's Equity Association.
Lee appeared reserved, but was known to be ruthless in all business matters. Jacob (often called Jake or "J.J.") was a coarse, often violent man, who was known to punch out chorus girls who complained about backstage conditions. The Shubert Brothers produced over 500 plays and musicals to fill their theatres they controlled 31 Broadway theatres, plus 63 more nationwide. They promoted the talents of composer Sigmund Romberg, and performers Al Jolson, Marilyn Miller and Ed Wynn. The musical tastes of both brothers ran to the sentimental and melodic, with a strong preference for operettas and revues employing legions of chorus girls.
The Shuberts' most important musicals included Maytime (1917), Blossom Time (1921), Big Boy (1925) and Hellzapoppin (1938), as well as several post-Ziegfeld editions of the Follies in the 1930s and 40s. In time, the Shuberts were most closely identified with musty, budget-conscious revivals that toured after playing a few nights in New York, boasting they were "straight from Broadway." When the Great Depression struck and experts advised them to sell off their theaters, the Shuberts refused, saving Broadway from almost certain extinction. Lee and Jacob were always in litigation, even with each other. In fact, they did not speak to each other during the final decades of their lives, and Lee forced the hotheaded J.J into the background. In the 1960s, with both brothers dead, the Shubert family's attorneys took control of the organization.
b. Dec. 12, 1915 (Hoboken, NJ) - d. May 14, 1998 (Los Angeles, CA)
One of the most popular entertainers of the 20th Century, Sinatra went from singing with Tommy Dorsey's orchestra to a solo career that made him the hottest teen idol of the 1940s. He appeared in several minor films before MGM co-starred him with Gene Kelly in Anchors Aweigh (1945). Sinatra developed a seemingly effortless screen presence, making him effective in everything from musical comedies to gritty dramas.
Eventually appearing in almost 60 films, his most notable musical roles include Chip in On the Town (1949), Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls (1955), Connor in High Society (1956), and the title roles in Pal Joey (1957) and Robin and the Seven Hoods (1964). He introduced several Academy Award winning songs, including "All the Way" in The Joker is Wild (1957) and "High Hopes" (with young Eddie Hodges) in A Hole in the Head (1959). Sinatra was one of the narrators of the MGM compendium That's Entertainment (1974). One of the top pop singers of the 20th Century, he starred in numerous television specials and made SRO concert appearances into his final years.
Smith, Harry B.
b. Dec. 28, 1860 (Buffalo, NY) - d. Jan. 2, 1936 (Atlantic City, NJ)
America's most prolific librettist, Smith contributed to the book and/or lyrics of 123 Broadway musicals -- and dozens more that never made it. His most memorable hits included Reginald DeKoven's Robin Hood (1891), Victor Herbert's Sweethearts (1913), Jerome Kern's The Girl From Utah (1914) and the earliest editions of the Ziegfeld Follies (1907-1912). In a career that stretched into the 1930s, Smith collaborated with most of the important stage composers of his time, including John Philip Sousa, Sigmund Romberg and Franz Lehar. As a lyricist, his hit songs include "The Sheik of Araby" and "Yours is My Heart Alone." He occasionally teamed up with his brother, lyricist/librettist Robert Smith.
Set designer, producer
b. Feb. 13, 1918 (Wawpawn, WI) - d. Jan. 23, 1994 (New York City)
With the lavish operetta Rosalinda (1942), Smith began a career as one of Broadway's most prolific set designers, working on more than 40 musicals, as well as dozens of plays, operas and ballets. An expert in evoking the atmosphere of most any time or place, and in designing sets to interact with the human form, his most important original Broadway productions included On The Town (1944 - also co-produced), Brigadoon (1947), Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1949), My Fair Lady (1956) and Candide (1956). His innovative sets for West Side Story (1957) allowed for a more cinematic flow of action, disposing of the traditional "in one" curtain to cover scene changes. Smith's later work included the sets for the original Broadway productions of The Sound of Music (1959), Camelot (1960) and Hello Dolly (1964). Actively designing through the 1980s, he taught set design at New York University's Tish School of the Arts. Smith was also a legendary figure in the world of dance, serving as longtime co-director of New York's prestigious American Ballet Theatre (1945-1980).