HomeMusicSheldon Harnick, ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ Lyricist, Dies at 99

Sheldon Harnick, ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ Lyricist, Dies at 99


Sheldon Harnick, the lyricist who, with the composer Jerry Bock, wrote a few of Broadway’s most memorable musicals, together with the Tony Award-winning “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Fiorello!,” died on Friday at his dwelling in Manhattan. He was 99.

His dying was introduced by a spokesman, Sean Katz.

Mr. Harnick’s lyrics could possibly be broadly humorous, slyly satirical, lushly romantic or poignantly shifting. He gave voice to a broad vary of characters, together with corrupt politicians, starry-eyed younger lovers, a quarreling Adam and Eve, and, in “Fiddler on the Roof,” struggling Jews in early-Twentieth-century Russia.

When three single sisters in “Fiddler” confront the village matchmaker, two of them hopeful and the third cynical, all of them find yourself having second ideas:

Matchmaker, matchmaker, plan me no plans
I’m in no rush, possibly I’ve discovered
Playing with matches a lady can get burned.
So deliver me no ring, groom me no groom,
Find me no discover, catch me no catch.
Unless he’s a matchless match!

When the main man in “She Loves Me” is about to satisfy the lady with whom he’s been buying and selling love letters for months, he virtually sings himself right into a nervous breakdown:

I haven’t slept a wink, I solely assume
Of our approaching tête-à-tête,
Tonight at eight.
I really feel a mixture of despair and elation;
What a state!
To wait
Till eight.

Mr. Harnick met Mr. Bock within the late Fifties, and the 2 rapidly realized they might work collectively regardless of their completely different temperaments. “I are inclined to strategy issues skeptically and pessimistically,” Mr. Harnick instructed The New York Times in 1990. “Jerry Bock is a effervescent, ebullient persona.”

The crew would break up after a dozen years over a dispute involving their musical “The Rothschilds.” But the mix labored extraordinarily properly whereas it lasted.

The late Fifties was a difficult time for newcomers to the musical stage. The decade’s hit Broadway musicals had included “Guys and Dolls,” “The King and I,” “Wonderful Town,” “My Fair Lady” and “Candide.” “In these days,” Mr. Harnick recalled in a 2004 interview, “lyricists had been consciously making an attempt to be extra refined and literate. Now we’re within the Andrew Lloyd Webber vein, making an attempt to hit greater, broader audiences.”

Mr. Harnick and Mr. Bock acquired off to a weak begin in 1958 with “The Body Beautiful,” set on the planet of prizefighting, which closed after a short run. They bounced again decisively the subsequent 12 months with “Fiorello!,” a breezy portrait of certainly one of New York City’s most colourful politicians.

“Fiorello!,” which had a guide by George Abbott and Jerome Weidman and was directed by Mr. Abbott, starred Tom Bosley as Fiorello H. La Guardia, the reformer who was mayor of New York from 1934 to 1945. Its rating evoked a time when political corruption was rife.

“Little Tin Box,” for instance, suggests how a crooked social gathering boss (Howard Da Silva) may need responded when a decide requested him how he has managed to purchase a yacht, given his modest wage. The boss replies:

I’m constructive Your Honor should be joking.
Any working man can do what I’ve achieved.
For a month or two I merely gave up smoking
And I put my further pennies one after the other
Into somewhat tin field
A bit tin field
That somewhat tin key unlocks.
There is nothing unorthodox
About somewhat tin field.

“Fiorello!” ran for almost 800 performances and received three Tony Awards, together with then prize for finest musical, which it shared with “The Sound of Music.” It was additionally one of many few musicals to win the Pulitzer Prize for drama.

But the Bock-Harnick crew’s largest success — and certainly one of Broadway’s — was but to come back: “Fiddler on the Roof,” which opened in 1964 and ran for greater than 3,200 performances. It grew to become the longest-running musical in Broadway historical past, a file that stood for a decade.

Directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins, with a guide by Joseph Stein primarily based on the tales of Sholem Aleichem, “Fiddler on the Roof” instructed the story of a Jewish neighborhood dealing with expulsion from a village within the czarist Russian empire, with a deal with Tevye (Zero Mostel), the village milkman, and his household.

In addition to “Matchmaker, Matchmaker,” the rating included numerous songs that might quickly be regarded classics, together with “Tradition,” “Sunrise, Sunset” and Tevye’s humorously wistful lament “If I Were a Rich Man” (“There could be one lengthy staircase simply going up/And one even longer coming down/And yet another main nowhere, only for present”).

“Fiddler on the Roof” was greater than a success present; it was a phenomenon. It received 9 Tony Awards, together with one for its rating. It was made into a success movie in 1971, has been carried out all around the world, and has had 5 Broadway revivals, most just lately in 2015. (A Yiddish-language production was an Off Broadway hit in 2019 and performed a return engagement in late 2022.)

Among the Bock-Harnick crew’s different noteworthy efforts was “She Loves Me” (1963), primarily based on the identical Hungarian play that was the premise for the movies “The Shop Around the Corner,” “In the Good Old Summertime” and “You’ve Got Mail.” The story of two employees at a fragrance store in Budapest (Barbara Cook and Daniel Massey) who lastly notice that they’ve been buying and selling romantic letters and that they’re meant for one another, it had no showstopping songs and was not initially a giant success, closing after 301 performances. But it has grown in recognition after a collection of revivals — though Broadway productions in 1993 and 2016 had been equally temporary.

Their different reveals included “The Apple Tree” (1966), three musical playlets (together with one about Adam and Eve) directed by Mike Nichols, and “The Rothschilds” (1970), primarily based on Frederic Morton’s biography of the Jewish household that rose from the ghetto to change into a monetary powerhouse.

It was a dispute over who would direct “The Rothschilds” that ended the Bock-Harnick partnership. The present’s authentic director, Derek Goldby, was changed by Michael Kidd on the urging of Mr. Harnick and others who wished somebody with extra musical-theater expertise. Mr. Bock was irate.

“Jerry felt that Derek had gotten a uncooked deal,” Mr. Harnick recalled in 1990. “For some time, the sentiments between us had been very unhealthy.” He added that “issues modified for the higher” when “Fiorello!” was revived in 1985 on the Goodspeed Opera House in Connecticut and he and Mr. Bock met there to work on it. (It was revived again off Broadway in 2016.)

Nonetheless, they by no means wrote one other present collectively. Mr. Bock died in 2010.

Sheldon Mayer Harnick was born on April 30, 1924, in Chicago to Harry and Esther Harnick. His father was a dentist, his mom a homemaker. He took violin classes as a baby, attended music college as a young person and earned cash taking part in in newbie theatricals. After serving within the Army, he enrolled on the Northwestern University School of Music. He graduated in 1949.

He started writing songs whereas in Carl Schurz High School and have become significantly keen on songwriting as a profession after listening to a recording of Burton Lane and E.Y. Harburg’s hit 1947 musical, “Finian’s Rainbow.” At the urging of the actress Charlotte Rae, a fellow Northwestern pupil, he moved to New York in 1950.

Mr. Harnick’s first track in a Broadway present was “The Boston Beguine,” which he wrote — music in addition to lyrics — for the revue “Leonard Sillman’s New Faces of 1952.” He wrote numbers for a number of different revues, together with “Two’s Company” (1952), earlier than teaming with Mr. Bock. (One of his compositions from these years, the darkly satirical and deceptively cheerful “The Merry Minuet,” was popularized by the Kingston Trio.)

Mr. Harnick’s first marriage, to Mary Boatner, was annulled. His second, to the comic, author and director Elaine May, led to divorce. In 1965 he married Margery Gray, an actress, whom he met when she auditioned for his present “Tenderloin.” (She later grew to become a photographer and artist.) She survives him, as do a daughter, Beth Dorn; a son, Matthew Harnick; and 4 grandchildren.

After his break up with Mr. Bock, Mr. Harnick went on to collaborate with a number of different composers. He labored with Mary Rodgers on a 1973 model of “Pinocchio” carried out by the Bil Baird marionettes, and together with her father, Richard Rodgers, on “Rex,” a musical about King Henry VIII of England that had a short Broadway run in 1976, with Nicol Williamson within the title function. He additionally labored with Michel Legrand on two reveals: an English-language stage model of the movie musical “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” produced off Broadway in 1979, and a brand new adaptation of “A Christmas Carol,” staged in Stamford, Conn., in 1982. And he collaborated with Joe Raposo on “A Wonderful Life,” primarily based on the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life,” which has had numerous regional productions since 1986.

Mr. Harnick additionally grew to become an completed opera translator, offering English librettos for classical works like Lehar’s “The Merry Widow,” Stravinsky’s “The Soldier’s Tale” and Bizet’s “Carmen.”

He wrote some authentic opera librettos as properly, together with “Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines” (1975), with music by Jack Beeson, and “The Phantom Tollbooth” (1995), a collaboration with Norton Juster, the creator of the youngsters’s guide on which it was primarily based, and the composer Arnold Black. “Lady Bird: First Lady of the Land,” an opera about Lady Bird Johnson for which he wrote the libretto and Henry Mollicone wrote the music, had its premiere in Texas in 2016 and has been carried out in New York and elsewhere.

In late 2015, shortly earlier than the most recent Broadway revival of “Fiddler on the Roof” opened, Mr. Harnick was within the studio making an illustration file of songs from “Dragons,” an adaptation of a Russian play for which he wrote the guide, music and lyrics, and which he had been engaged on for a few years. In an interview with The Times, he mentioned that he had no ideas of retirement, and that he continued to attend each present on Broadway, as he had for a few years. He added that he was engaged on a brand new present of his personal.

“I hope I stay lengthy sufficient to finish it,” he mentioned. “I received’t let you know what thought I’ve, since you’ll steal it.”

Robert Berkvist, a former New York Times arts editor, died in 2023. Peter Keepnews contributed reporting.

Content Source: www.nytimes.com


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