A Look Back: Marvin Hamlisch’s Musicals — The Music of Marvin Hamlisch — Get License for your next productions

MUSICALS: A Chorus Line - They’re Playing Our SongJean Seberg - SmileThe Goodbye GirlSweet Smell of SuccessImaginary Friends (play) - Nutty Professor, Musical

I also had to put to rest the child in me that still saw things in black and white, success or failure. I struggled to understand that there are a lot of shades in between, that success or failure is only one of life’s several yardsticks: It’s only fame. It’s just a paint job.

It doesn’t have anything to do with writing.” Marvin Hamlisch, from the book “The Way I Was”


Marvin’s Musicals


Marvin Hamlisch achieved more in his 68-year life and career than many of the greats and shall undoubtedly be remembered for many centuries to come as one of the most popular and accomplished composers of the 20th and 21st century.” – Pat Cerasaro —

Marvin Hamlisch - ACL sign

I was at a party at which someone said something to me that was on a par with ‘Beware of Ides of March.’ He was a movie director…This man said something that proved to be prescient and profound. He pulled a long face not in keeping with the occasion and said: ‘You know, Marvin, it’s too bad you got this so young.’

Come on, I thought. This guy has got to be kidding. I had won three Oscars in one night. There couldn’t possibly be a cloudy sky behind that rainbow. But my private Cassandra knew something that I didn’t. Or did I? This man had said something that I had considered myself…He was right. I had been obsessed with my career, with putting myself on the map. Well, I was there, and the chase was over. Yet until now I had never wondered where all this was leading. To someone young and impetuous, personal happiness was equated with success”

-(Marvin had big successes: “A Chorus Line” (1975), “They’re Playing Our Song” (1978), but also flops: “Jean Seberg” (1983), “Smile” (1986)-

It’s funny, celebrity status. “A Chorus Line” was a big success. And “They’re playing Our song” was also well received. But after “Jean Seberg” and “Smile” something had gone terribly wrong. Not since “They’re Playing Our song” had I had a bona fide hit. What followed were three very tough years for me, without any writing offers of much consequence. I became very depressed. I also had to put to rest the child in me that still saw things in black and white, success or failure. I struggled to understand that there are a lot of shades in between, that success or failure is only one of life’s several yardsticks:

-It’s only fame. It’s just a paint job.

It doesn’t have anything to do with writing.-

Why didn’t I know that early on? I should have brushed myself off and started all over again. If only I could have gone back to writing music. ‑Marvin Hamlisch – “The Way I Was”

Marvin Hamlisch was born in Manhattan to Viennese-born Jewish parents, Lilly (née Schachter) and Max Hamlisch. Marvin was a child prodigy, and, by age five, he began mimicking the piano music he heard on the radio. A few months before he turned seven, in 1951, he was accepted into what is now the Juilliard School Pre-College Division

West Side Story

His first job was as a rehearsal pianist for Funny Girl (Broadway 1964) with Barbra Streisand. (Music by Jule Styne, Lyrics by Bob Merrill, Book by Isobel Lennart. – Musical Inspired by the life of Fanny Brice) His favorite musicals growing up were My Fair Lady (1956), Gypsy (1959), West Side Story (1957), and Bye Bye Birdie (1960).

Marvin’s favorite musicals growing up were: My Fair Lady (1956), Gypsy (1959), West Side Story (1957), and Bye Bye Birdie (1960).


Marvin’s Contributions to Musicals and Broadway:


1964- Rehearsal Pianist for Funny Girl

People” (From: Funny Girl — film)

I next made my way downtown to Broadway, as the rehearsal pianist (and fetch chocolate-covered doughnuts) for Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl” — Marvin Hamlisch. “The Way I Was”


1968 – Dance Music arrangements for Golden Rainbow

Book by Ernest Kinoy; Music by Walter Marks; Lyrics by Walter Marks; Based on the play “A Hole in the Head” by Arnold Schulman; Musical Director: Elliot Lawrence; Vocal arrangements and additional scoring by Elliot Lawrence; Music orchestrated by Pat Williams and Jack Andrews; Dance Music Arranged by Marvin Hamlisch; Dance arrangements by Luther Henderson

Eydie Gormé and Steve Lawrence

Shubert Theatre, (2/4/1968 — 11/17/1968) / George Abbott Theatre, (11/19/1968 — 1/11/1969) Category: Musical, Original, Broadway / Setting: The present. Las Vegas. Produced by Joseph P. Harris and Ira Bernstein

The stars of Golden Rainbow, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gormé, were already well-known from their extensive work in music, film and television during the 1950s and 1960s. The musical is perhaps best remembered for the song I’ve Gotta Be Me”, released as a single in the late 1960s by both Lawrence and Sammy Davis, Jr.

The show concerns a man living in Las Vegas, Nevada and raising his son alone; his late wife’s sister arrives and tries to bring stability to the boy’s life, but unintentionally falls in love with her brother-in-law.


1972 – Evening with Groucho at Carnegie Hall.

There is something I want to tell you. Groucho is in his eitghties now. He’s outlived Chico and Harpo and most of his friends and show-business pals. I think it would be very helpful to have him get out in the world. I’d like to get someone to let him sing around the piano with his friends. So I thought of you. – Said Miss Fleming unexpectedly”

I agreed that might prove excellent therapy. Inconceivable. I was going to be working and playing with Groucho Marx. So I reported to his house in Beverly Hills. — ‑Marvin Hamlisch. “The Way I Was”


Groucho was incapable of holding a serious conversation; he could not be solemn if it killed him. He seemed to have a compulsion to mock everything and everybody, which may be why his sessions around the piano- in his living room or on the concert stage- proved such good therapy. This was just what he needed to regain some of the lilt of his early years. And yes, Groucho was a passionate man. Like other famous curmudgeons, from Dorothy Parker to Oscar Levant, he would sacrifice anyone for a laugh. But there was a great humanness to the man. Whenever I think of him I recall an exchange in “A Night at the Opera”. Groucho and the inevitable Margaret Dumont are ascending the gangplank of a luxury liner:

Are you sure you have everything, Otis?” she says.

I haven’t had any complaints yet,” says Groucho.

I never had any complaints about you, either.

I miss you Groucho. We all do. ‑Marvin Hamlisch. “The Way I Was”

Read: Minnie’s Boys — About Groucho and brothers.


1973 Contributed for Liza with a Z (Liza Minnelli)

Liza Minnelli — “Liza with a Z”


Liza with a “Z”: A Concert for Television is a 1972 concert film, made for television and starring Liza Minnelli. The film was produced by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse. As well as producing, Fosse also directed and choreographed the concert, and Ebb wrote and arranged the music with his song-writing partner John Kander. All four had previously worked on the successful film adaptation of Cabaret earlier in the same year. According to Minnelli, it was “the first filmed concert on television”

Watch: Liza Minnelli:

1975 A Chorus Line (and 2006 A Chorus Line — Revival)

Without a doubt, “A Chorus Line” was the musical of the era and it absolutely swept the 1976 Tony Awards, winning Hamlisch Best Original Score as well as Best Musical for the Michael Bennett-directed musical theatre masterpiece

The original cast of A Chorus Line at the recording session



VIDEO: The Cast of A Chorus Line, 2007 Tony Awards. Introduced by Marvin Hamlisch:

So Marvin, tell us,” my mother asked, “what did Michael have to say for himself? “What’s the show about?” my father joined in.

What could I tell them?

It’s about dancers,” I said rather meekly. I tried to say more, but truthfully, that’s all I really knew.

The silence was finally broken when my mother asked: “A show about dancers? So, do you want celery in your tuna fish sandwich or not?”

Michael Bennett, Ed Kleban, Nick Dante, Jimmy Kirkwood. All part of my beloved “Chorus Line”. Four singular sensations. It takes a lifetime to meet people of such gifts and to form such an unbreakable bond.

I wont’ forget / Can’t regret / What we did for love. –

Marvin Hamlisch. “The Way I was”

A Chorus Line: The Show:

VIDEO: SONG: “I Hope I Get It” — A Chorus Line — 1976 Tony Awards (broadcast live from the Shubert Theatre Sunday) April 18, 1976:

 Every kid who ever came to New York to work in and around the theater, or anybody who dances for a living in that milieu, will immediately connect with the stories of the characters of A Chorus Line, and upon listening to them will say, “That’s me.” A Chorus Line: Read More:

A Chorus Line-The Songs:

All of a sudden we did “At The Ballet,” and someone said that this song was like bringing in the heart and soul of A Chorus Line. All of a sudden, the heart, the “it”, the whatever you call that, that thing was brought to the table. And that changed everything for me on that show. Because I went, “Whoa!” I could see the possibilities once that song was written.” A Chorus Line-The Songs — Read More:

Watch: Mikhail Baryshnikov with Cast of A Chorus Line (Introduced by Liza Minnelli)



Every Little Step — Watch Trailer, Read synopsis, Purchase DVD:


1978 They’re Playing Our Song

Lucie Arnaz & Robert Klein — Musical: They’re Playing Our Song



Hamlisch had one more huge hit in him to close out his career pinnacle decade and that property was another wholly original Broadway musical to run alongside one-time long-run champion “A Chorus Line” — the Neil Simon / Carole Bayer Sager/ Marvin Hamlisch collaboration “They’re Playing Our Song”, originally starring Lucie Arnaz and Robert Klein

Carol Bayer Sager

On a hot summer day in 1978, Neil Simon called. He had his sights set on turning his play “The gingerbread Lady” into a Broadway Musical. (An unlikely idea, but who was I to argue with Neil Simon?) He had already written hilarious books for the musicals “Sweet Charity”, “Little Me, and “Promises, Promises

It never dawned on me that my stories about Carole Bayer Sager and me had started the Simon creative juices flowing. I was puzzled when one day, a few months later, Carole and I received a brown envelope from Neil. I couldn’t figure out what was in it, since by then he had abandoned “The Gingerbread Lady”. We found a typewritten manuscript inside.

– Marvin Hamlisch – from the book “The Way I Was”

Watch Scene from “They’re Playing Our Song:

Related content:


1983 Jean Seberg

Jean Seberg


The 1980s and 1990s proved to be less fruitful as far as stage successes went for Hamlisch, unfortunately, with Jean Seberg dying a quick death at The National Theatre in 1982 — though yielding one of his most cherished ballads (of many), “Dreamers”, memorably recorded by Sarah Brightman and others –


Jean Seberg is a musical biography with a book by Julian Barry, lyrics by Christopher Adler, and music by Marvin Hamlisch. It is based on the life of the late American actress.

The plot covers her life and career from her first screen appearance in the 1957 Otto Preminger film Saint Joan to her acclaim in France prompted by her appearance in Breathless to her support of the Black Panthers to her mysterious 1979 death in Paris at the age of forty.

Breathless Movie Clip: Michel (Jean-Paul Belmondo) meets Patricia (Jean Seberg) — an American — in Paris when she was selling copies of the New York Herald Tribune.

The production underwent major problems and faced criticism during its developmental and rehearsal stages. The original choreographer was fired and two of the stars suffered ankle injuries. One of them was replaced, resulting in the opening being delayed. Supporters of the National Theatre were dismayed that it was staging the premiere of what was primarily an American musical, and rumors that it was a disaster spread through London.

In an interview with Stephen Holden of The New York Times, Hamlisch said,

A project like Jean seems awfully risky to a producer.… I have to keep reminding myself that A Chorus Line was initially considered weird and off the wall. It was A Chorus Line that convinced me that if you give an audience a theatrical moment, whether it’s funny or mean or satiric, they’ll accept it as long as it’s theatrical. You mustn’t underestimate an audience’s intelligence.”

Directed by Peter Hall, Jean Seberg opened on December 1, 1983, with Kelly Hunter and Elizabeth Counsell as the younger and older actress, respectively.

Jean Seberg — Actress

In his review in the Daily Telegraph, John Barber described it as “a very big musical for someone who seems to have been a very small girl”. Milton Shulman in the Evening Standard compared the songs to “penny whistles at a state funeral”, while Robert Cushman of The Observer felt “Marvin Hamlisch’s score is the best he has written for the theater.

An article in the January 12, 1984 edition of The New York Times reported that the National, citing “disappointing reception by the critics” and poor box office, would close the show on April 4. It has never been produced on Broadway.

Rendition by Sarah Brightman. Song: Dreamers. With Lyrics:

1986 Smile

Smile is a musical with music by Marvin Hamlisch and book and lyrics by Howard Ashman. It was originally produced on Broadway in 1986. The musical is based loosely on a 1975 film of the same title, from a screenplay by Jerry Belson.



In Our Hands” from the musical Smile -

The original production opened on Broadway on November 24, 1986 at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre and closed on January 3, 1987 after 48 performances. It was directed by Ashman with musical staging by Mary Kyte. It received a Tony Award nomination for Best Book of a Musical as well as Drama Desk Award nominations for Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical (Michael O’Gorman) and Outstanding Costume Design (William Ivy Long).


Smile chronicles the backstage troubles of the fictional 1985 California Young American Miss beauty pageant held in Santa Rosa, California. The main characters include Robin Gibson and Doria Hudson, two contestants who befriend and help each other throughout the week; Brenda DiCarlo Freelander, an ex-Young American Miss second-runner-up coordinating the pageant; and Brenda’s husband Big Bob, an RV Salesman trying to help her through the week.



1993 The Goodbye Girl

Lighting did not strike again with the Neil Simon-penned “The Goodbye Girl”, either, though Bernadette Peters and Martin Short are remembered fondly for their chemistry and spunky, recitative-flecked love duet ‑including a witty David Zippel lyric containing the phrase “Sondheimlisch maneuver”.

The Goodbye Girl is a musical with a book by Neil Simon, lyrics by David Zippel, and music by Marvin Hamlisch, based on Simon’s original screenplay for the 1977 film of the same name.



Egotistical actor Elliot Garfield sublets a friend’s Manhattan apartment only to discover it is still occupied by

Listen to: “No More” From “The Goodbye Girl”

his friend’s ex-girlfriend Paula, a former dancer, and her precocious pre-teen daughter Lucy. Initially suspicious and antagonistic, Elliot and Paula arrive at an uneasy truce. Paula, fed up with being hurt by boyfriend-actors, rashly vows never to become involved again (“No More”), while Elliot sets down the rules for the living arrangements (“My Rules”). Paula decides to return to work as a dancer, but during dance class finds it difficult (“A Beat Behind”).

While attempting to cohabit as peacefully as possible, despite their differences of opinion and temperament, Elliot and Paula find themselves attracted to each other (“Paula (An Improvised Love Song)”). Although Elliot finds a job out-of-town, Paula realizes that this is the true love she has been seeking, and they reach a happy ending (“What a Guy”).

Watch. The Goodbye Girl. 1993 Tony Awards:


2002 Imaginary Friends

Stage scores in the new century were largely better received, with his incidental songs for the Jack O’Brien play with music “Imaginary Friends” hitting the right chords for stars Swoosie Kurtz and Cherry Jones.


Swoosie Kurtz — Cherry Jones. Play: Imaginary Friends

Imaginary Friends is a play by Nora Ephron. It includes songs with music by Marvin Hamlisch and lyrics by Craig Carnelia.

Directed by Jack O’Brien, and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell, the play had its world premiere at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, where it ran from September 21 through November 3, 2002.

The production transferred to Broadway, opening at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on December 12, 2002 following 20 previews. It closed on February 16, 2003 after a run of 76 performances to mixed reviews.

The play focuses on writers Lillian Hellman and Mary McCarthy, who reunite in hell and reflect on their decades-long antagonistic relationship. Dating back to their first meeting at a conference at Sarah Lawrence College in 1948, it came to a head in 1980 when McCarthy, in a television interview with Dick Cavett, asserted every word written by her rival, including “and” and “the,” was a lie. Hellman subsequently sued McCarthy for slander. As the play progresses, the two women recall, among other things, Hellman’s 1952 testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee, McCarthy’s childhood abuse by an uncle, and their romantic involvements, McCarthy with Philip Rahv and Hellman with Dashiell Hammett. Throughout it all, McCarthy accuses Hellman of repeatedly presenting fiction as fact, while Hellman insists McCarthy always portrays fact as fiction.


2002 Sweet Smell of Success

Positively brilliant and spine-tingling 1950s noir score for “Sweet Smell of Success”, originally starring John Lithgow (who won a Tony for his charismatic leading role), Brian D’Arcy James and Kelli O’Hara, winning over the audience in ways the dark show did not (thus the brief run).



Sweet Smell of Success is a musical created by Marvin Hamlisch (music), Craig Carnelia (lyrics), and John Guare (book). The show is based on the 1957 movie of the same name, which tells the story of a powerful newspaper columnist named J. J. Hunsecker (based on famed New York columnist Walter Winchell) who uses his connections to ruin his sister’s relationship with a man he deems inappropriate.

Scene from 1957 Film. (With Tony Curtis and Burt Lancaster)

Directed by Nicholas Hytner, the musical opened on March 14, 2002 at the Martin Beck Theatre on Broadway. It closed on June 15, 2002, after 109 performances and 18 previews. The show starred John Lithgow as J.J. Hunsecker, and Brian d’Arcy James as Sidney Falcone. The creative team included choreography by Christopher Wheeldon, sets and costumes by Bob Crowely, and lighting by Natasha Katz. Sweet Smell garnered 7 Tony Award nominations including Best Musical. John Lithgow received the show’s only Tony Award, winning Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical.


”Sweet Smell of Success” began life in the late 40’s as a long magazine article, but made a bigger splash as a film generally presumed to be a savage profile of the savage Walter Winchell of The New York Daily Mirror. The

Listen to samples of the musical score with the original Broadway cast

Winchell character, Hunsecker, induces Falco, the press agent whose survival depends on placing items in the column, to help break up a romance between Hunsecker’s younger sister and a jazz musician.

’I love this dirty town,” an exultant Hunsecker says after emerging onto 52nd Street from ”21’’ Club, his nightly headquarters. Geographically speaking, ”Sweet Smell of Success” is claustrophobic. Its farthest boundaries take the camera only to the exterior of ”21,” the Flatiron Building on 23rd Street and the 59th Street Bridge, outside a jazz club.”

Works in progress at the time of Marvin’s passing:

Most recently, Jerry Lewis teamed up with Marvin Hamlisch and Rupert Holmes for a stage musical adaptation of Lewis’s cinema comedy classic “THE NUTTY PROFESSOR — MUSICAL

VIDEO: A look at the Nutty Professor Musical:

The Musical opened in Memphis, TN during 2012, but the immediate future for the show is unclear now with the sudden passing of the show’s composer, though multi-Tony-Award-winner Rupert Holmes seems more than capable of taking the musical reigns should any more material be needed at this late stage, one could venture.

Additionally, Hamlisch also had reportedly made contributions to Steven Soderbergh’s 2013 HBO Liberace biopic BEHIND THE CANDELABRA — starring Michael Douglas and Matt Damon. The film won Emmys for “Best Miniseries or movie” and wins for star Michael Douglas and Director Steven Soderberg. READ:

Liberace-Behind the candelabra

So, while he is no longer with us, there is Marvin Hamlisch’s music — plus, his new material for “Ballroom” and the new musical “Gotta Dance” — still to be heard and for that we can all surely be eternally grateful.

Rest in Peace, Marvin. And Thank you for the Music.




Source: Team Marvin Hamlisch / The Music of Marvin Hamlisch