The story behind the musical “They’re Playing Our Song”
“When you write something you have lost your objectivity right off the bat. I remember when we started working on it, I kept laughing and thinking it was really funny. The one thing I liked about “They’re Playing Our Song” is that we were just trying to do a really fun, nice evening with no pretentiousness.” Marvin Hamlisch (1944–2012)
The Neil Simon / Carole Bayer Sager/ Marvin Hamlisch collaboration “They’re Playing Our Song”, originally starring Lucie Arnaz and Robert Klein
“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”
In a story based on the real-life relationship of Hamlisch and Sager, a wisecracking composer finds a new, offbeat lyricist, but initially the match is not one made in heaven. The two undergo a series of trials and overcome a number of hurdles before finding true love by the final curtain.
Robert Klein & Lucie Arnaz — Performance at 1979 Tony’s. WATCH:
Produced by Emanuel Azenberg, the musical had its world premiere at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles in December 1978. After eleven previews, the Broadway production, directed by Robert Moore, choreographed by Patricia Birch, and starring Robert Klein and Lucie Arnaz (in her Broadway debut), opened on February 11, 1979 at the Imperial Theatre, where it ran for 1,082 performances. An original cast recording was released by Casablanca Records.
Song: “When You’re In My Arms” — Rendition by Michael Mahler and Dara Cameron. WATCH:
They’re Playing Our Song is essentially a two-character show. Vernon and Sonia are the sole characters on stage; each character has a three-person Greek chorus acting as their inner voices, and there are no big production numbers.
WATCH: Sutton Foster & Seth Rudetsky Rehearsals for Actors Fund Benefit ‑2011- WATCH:
“It makes me think of Melissa Manchester and Karen Carpenter. It has this 70’s — 80’s vibe. It’s really fun” Sutton Foster.
WATCH: Sutton Foster & Seth Rudetsky Performance for Actors Fund Benefit ‑2011- WATCH:
Top pop music composer Vernon Gersch, hoping to find a new collaborator, meets offbeat Sonia Walsk, who has already had some success writing lyrics and is in awe of his accomplishments, at his luxury Manhattan apartment. She is surprised that his Oscar is so light, and Vernon quips, “They’re chocolate inside.” He is aloof and focused, while she is disorganized and distracted, but Vernon has already written music to one of Sonia’s lyrics, and they decide to forge ahead. Sonia, frazzled by her break up with lover Leon, arrives a day late for their first work session. When they begin, she tells Vernon they should get to know each other on a personal level in order for their work to gel, and they decide to have dinner at “Le Club.”
Sonia, who has been trying to ease Leon’s anguish, is late yet again, and the evening begins badly. She and Vernon argue, then dance in an effort to calm down. The two settle down to enjoy the evening, and they hear their own songs being played over the sound system. Another work session, in which the two really don’t listen to each other, follows, but Vernon convinces Sonia to join him for a romantic weekend at a Long Island beach house. The trip to the island in Vernon’s small sports car is fraught with engine trouble, calls to Leon, and arguments. They finally arrive at the house, but a phone call from Leon threatens the romantic mood. Determined to concentrate on Vernon, Sonia tells Leon that she can’t help him and hangs up.
It’s a week later and Vernon is suffering from insomnia. Sonia manipulates her way into his apartment by telling him she has no place to stay since Leon is back living at her place. Sonia and Vernon’s romance and collaboration seems successful for a while, but the relationship begins to crumble because of her inability to send her ex-boyfriend away. Also, away from his piano, Vernon is a bundle of neuroses and unable to express his deepest feelings. After some psychologizing about the difficulties of living and working together, the pair split up at a recording session.
A few months later, while Vernon is in a Los Angeles hospital, Sonia arrives unexpectedly with a tiny red child’s piano as a get-well gift. Months later, both have separately come to the realization that, despite their differences, they are better together. Vernon arrives at Sonia’s apartment in New York to tell her that he wants to try again. She agrees, and they reconcile with a kiss.
The West End production opened on October 1, 1980 at the Shaftesbury Theatre with Tom Conti and Gemma Craven, who won a Laurence Olivier Award for her performance. Among the “Inner Voices” was Deena Payne. Notable replacements during its original London run included Martin Shaw and Diana Terry. It closed on May 8, 1982. A London cast recording was released on the Chopper label.
The original Australian production opened on August 23, 1980 at the Theatre Royal in Sydney. It starred John Waters and Jacki Weaver, with Rhonda Burchmore as one of the “Inner Voices.” An Australian Cast Recording was released by Festival Records.
The Singapore Repertory Theater production opened in the Philippines, from July 2000 to August 13. It starred Tony Award winner Lea Salonga as Sonia and Singaporean actor Adrian Pang as Vernon. The musical ran in the AFP Theatre.
Music Marvin Hamlisch
Lyrics Carole Bayer Sager
Book: Neil Simon
Basis: Relationship between Carole Bayer Sager and Marvin Hamlisch
1978 Los Angeles
1980 West End
1980 Buenos Aires
1992 Buenos Aires
2008 West End Revival
Several short-term productions had happened afterwards:
2013 Australia (Albury, Australia)
2013 Manila (RCBC Plaza, Makati City, Manila)
2013 London (Queens Theatre, London)
2013 Several cities in the U.S.A.