Music can make a difference. There is a global nature to music, which has the potential to bring all people together. Music is truly an international language, and I hope to contribute by widening communication as much as I can.”
Marvin Hamlisch composed and conducted his way across not just the globe, but across musical eras. Jazz, classical, pop — he knew and loved all types of music and relished the chance to share them with music enthusiasts everywhere. And the world responded, showering him with sweet success. Marvin belongs to a select crew: he’s only one of eleven “EGOTs” — those who’ve won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony. He is also one of only two artists to have won those four prizes and also a Pulitzer Prize (the other was Richard Rodgers). What stellar company!
Marvelous Marvin is also remembered as the man who “aaved Broadway.” Back in the early 1970s, Hamlin was in Hollywood racking up three Oscars in 12 months and making big pots of money. Then he got a call from an old pal, choreographer Michael Bennett, who was putting together a musical about Broadway “gypsies’ — dancers who wander from show to show.
There was no script, just a bunch of ideas and interviews, but Bennett wanted Hamlisch to write the music. The pay: $100 a week, peanuts compared to what Marv was making working for the movies. When he took the gig, his agent almost strangled him. But for Marv, who adored musicals, the chance to write the music for won was irresistible. So Marv came back East to work with lyricist Ed Kleban on what would soon become A Chorus Line.
Kleban has pages of interviews with Broadway gypsies and spent hours pouring through them looking for words or phrases that could be turned into lyrics. Ultimately, one sentence, “Everything is beautiful at the ballet,” became the lovely song At the Ballet, which Marv called the heart of A Chorus Line. When he played the song for the show’s creators, Michael Bennett cried.
When A Chorus Line opened in 1975, Broadway was failing. Theaters were dark and show attendance hit an all-time low of 6.6 million; the year after the show opened, it surged to 8.8 million. Recalling the show, Marvin once said, “I have to keep reminding myself that ‘A Chorus Line’ was initially considered weird and off the wall. You mustn’t underestimate an audience’s intelligence.”
Ever the optimist, Marvin was always most excited about his newest project and about the creative challenge he faced, just as we all do: “It’s easy to write things that are so self-conscious that they become pretentious, that have a lot of noise. It’s very hard to write a simple melody.” So true! Write on.