CY COLEMAN BIOGRAPHY
“A permanent gem in Broadway’s crown." So said theatre critic Clive Barnes in praise of Cy Coleman and his nearly half-century of contributions to the American musical. Coleman was born Seymour Kaufman on June 14, 1929, the son of Russian immigrants. His mother owned an apartment house in the Bronx, where Seymour started playing music at age 4 when a tenant vacated, leaving behind a piano. The building’s milkman heard Seymour play and was so impressed that he introduced Seymour to his son’s piano teacher. Seymour made his Carnegie Hall debut at age 7. He attended the High School of Music and Art and at age 16 changed his name to “Cy Coleman” on the advice of a music publisher.
While attending New York College of Music, Coleman formed a jazz trio and earned money playing in cocktail lounges and clubs, where his enthusiasm for jazz and standards drew him away from classical music. He met lyricist Carolyn Leigh in the early 1950s and embarked on a fruitful but stormy collaboration. Coleman’s pop- jazz melodies combined with Leigh’s sophisticated, often suggestive lyrics to produce songs like “Witchcraft” (1957) and “The Best Is Yet To Come” (1959).
In 1960, Coleman and Leigh were brought on to compose a Broadway vehicle for Lucille Ball. The show, Wildcat, had a short run, but the song “Hey Look Me Over” became a standout hit. Next, the team scored Little Me (1962), with book by Neil Simon and direction by Bob Fosse. Despite its success, this was the final collaboration for Coleman and Leigh, who were fighting constantly.
Coleman continued to work with Fosse and Simon and paired with lyricist Dorothy Fields for Sweet Charity. Coleman and Fields followed up with Seesaw, a modest success, featuring a young Tommy Tune. Fields passed away in 1974, and Coleman next worked with Michael Stewart on I Love My Wife (1977).
Approached about composing a musical in collaboration with Betty Comden and Adolph Green, Coleman dove into a light opera style to create On the Twentieth Century. Coleman won his first Tony® this show in 1978.
Award for Original Score for
Coleman's next triumph was the circus-style show Barnum (1980). He later took the Tony two years in a row, for the film noir inspired City of Angels (1990) and the country
6 ROUNDABOUT THEATRE COMPANY
spectacular The Will Rogers Follies, again with Comden and Green (1991). His last Broadway show was the gritty urban musical The Life (1997). For each new show, Coleman established a unique musical idiom and never repeated a style.
Remarking on his work ethic, Coleman said, “I don’t like to let go. I will drain to the last drop." Until his death he was juggling multiple projects: a 2005 revival of Sweet Charity and several new shows, including a stage version of Wendy Wasserstein’s children’s book Pamela’s First Musical. He also continued to perform his own cabaret act regularly at Feinstein’s. Coleman passed away in February 2004; the following evening, the lights in all Broadway theatres were dimmed to honor his memory.•
FROM PAGES TO STAGES THE FIRST PLAY:
Bruce Millholland writes a play called Napoleon of Broadway about working for a producer (possibly based on his experiences working for either David Belasco or Morris Gest). He gives the play to producer Jed Harris, who likes the main character (a producer, of course) but thinks that the team of Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur could come up with a stronger play for him. Millholland agrees to let him give the play to this writing team.
THE SECOND PLAY: Hecht and MacArthur, authors of the hit play The Front Page, turn Millholland’s Napoleon of Broadway into Twentieth Century. The play is directed by George Abbott and makes its debut on Broadway in 1932.
THE FILM: Hecht and MacArthur are hired to adapt their play into a film. The film is released in 1934, starring John Barrymore as Oscar Jaffee and Carole Lombard as Lily Garland. Directed by Howard Hawks, this screwball comedy is a popular hit.
THE FIRST REVIVAL: Twentieth Century gets its first Broadway revival in 1950, starring Jose Ferrer and Gloria Swanson (who is credited with designing her own gowns for the production).
THE BEGINNINGS OF A MUSICAL: In 1975, composer Cy Coleman teams up with lyricist/librettist duo Betty Comden and Adolph Green to write songs for an Off-Broadway revue. The three hit it off and begin searching for a full-length piece to do together. They start out trying to come up with an original story but eventually land on the classic comedy Twentieth Century, wondering if they can take
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