In a new memoir, Charles Strouse, the composer of Annie and Bye Bye Birdie, offers a behind-the-curtain look at life on the Great White Way.
Charles Strouse may have written the music to accompany the lyrics The sunll come out / tomorrow / bet your bottom dollar / that tomorrow / therell be sun! but hes never quite shared Annies famous optimism. In fact, Strouse, 80, says he has been plagued by overwhelming self-doubt throughout his long, successful career. Thats despite the fact that he has won three Tonys, two Emmys, and two Grammys; has composed beloved musicals like Annie and Bye Bye Birdie; has scored big-screen productions like Bonnie and Clyde; and has cowritten one of the most famous TV themes, All in the Familys Those Were the Days.
With this success Ive had, Strouse explains, I still feel that Im getting away with something, because I like what I do so much.
Clearly, theater fans like what he does as well. Strouses 80th birthday is being celebrated throughout this year in tributes and performances at the Library of Congress, the Juilliard School, and the Palladium in London, among others. Strouse, too, is marking the occasion. Hes penned the book Put On a Happy Face: A Broadway Memoir ($20, Sterling), which recounts his doubts and triumphs during his years on Broadway.
But dont think of all this fanfare as a send-off. Strouse is hardly done. He lives in Manhattan, just a few blocks away from the Great White Way, and hes still working. Drop in on him during the week and youre almost certain to find him tickling the ivories on his Yamaha upright. Currently, Strouse is composing the score for a stage version of The Night They Raided Minskys. The musical is based on the 1968 William Friedkin film of the same name. Strouse and his longtime writing partner, Lee Adams, wrote the score for that movie, and the musical version has been a decade in the making. Not that Strouse minds, really -- the more work, the better.What makes my day is if I write six good measures, he says.
Here, Strouse offers seven measures of his life and work.
Based on Jay-Zs recording of Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem), which samples tracks from Annies Its the Hard-Knock Life , Jay-Z might have a second career on Broadway ahead of him.
Iwas thrilled. Its the largest-selling record Ive ever had. Itsalready gone platinum four times. The most positive part is that Jay-Zwrote in the liner notes that when he first heard the song, herecognized the terror of the ghetto -- the terror of kids who are putupon and lead lonely, dark existences.
Art sometimes imitates other art.
The theme song for the TV show All in the Familyis very typical of the kind of works lyricist Lee Adams and I wrote.Norman Lear [the shows director] wanted a chorus and all that. It wasmy idea that the song was filmed with everyone sitting around thepiano, because that is what we used to do at home. Those sing-alongsare among my happiest family memories.
Those neon lights on Broadway are brighter than you think.
Broadwaybrings with it a kind of glamour that is almost indescribable. Itbrings international fame unlike anything else. When Applause opened,it was in the Hong Kong newspaper the next day. When Bye Bye Birdie performed in London, I met the prince. So Broadway success transcends that piece of real estate.
Annie has something in common with the finest of hops and grains.
The first four measures of the song Maybe in Anniewere from a Pabst Blue Ribbon beer commercial jingle I wrote that neveraired. I always thought there was a certain kind of wistfulness to it.We added it to Annie during previews in Washington, D.C., and it stayed in.
But does Vanessa Hudgens have a Broadway future? Maybe not so much.
I think its getting tiring, High School Musicaland such. It seems to have caught a profit-making, commercial aspect ofthe theater thats a bit away from the pure entertainment of it.
Strouse has a cast in mind for a movie based on his memoir, should one ever be made.
While I was working on the memoir, I thought, Gee, I wouldnt mind making a movie of this. I recently saw a movie called Run Fatboy Run.Its fantastic. Its a story of coming up and winning against yourself,which I feel. So that actor, Simon Pegg, comes to mind to play me.Because when I got married, I said, I cannot do this. Suddenly, I waswhere I was supposed to be, and I heard Here Comes the Bride, and Ifainted. Thats the way that picture starts. So I immediately connectedwith it.
Warren Beatty once put a hard knock on Strouse.
WarrenBeatty is one of the most brilliant guys Ive ever worked with. Youdthink hes too good-looking to be that smart, but he really is. Ithought I wrote a very good score for his movie Bonnie and Clyde.I remember there was a tune I particularly liked. He came up and asked,Can I hear that with a piccolo and a tuba? He had the right to saythat as a producer, but he did it after telling me how much he likedthis trumpet solo [that we had already decided to go with], a verylonely sound that I particularly liked. So we came to blows. Its funnybecause Im no fighter, and he was at least four inches taller than me.But we actually came to blows.
Since Charles Strouses songs are among those tunes youjust cant get out of your head, we asked him to name a few songs thatget frequent play on his mental jukebox.
|The Way You Look Tonight by Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields
They Cant Take That Away from Me by George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin
WhenI hear these songs, there are moments I can remember of my wife or ofan old girlfriend looking like that, or of my mother being all dressedup to go out. Im not that sentimental of a man in many respects. Andtoday, sentiment is very unfashionable in music. Its more about loss.But there is a sentimental streak in me, and I go to these songs a lot.
|Every Time We Say Goodbye by Cole Porter
Theres one line --Theres no love song finer / but how strange the change / from majorto minor. Of course, the chords change from major to minor at the sametime. Thats genius. Each word and note is crystal. I dont think hesat down and thought about it, but Porter changed the form and face ofregular music.
|Ill Be Seeing You by Sammy Fain and Irving Kahal
Sammy Fain wasa friend of my fathers. I can remember to this day how he sang it.Memories of my family go along with that song.