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Sheldon Harnick dies at 99 — the Broadway lyricist wrote ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ : NPR


Broadway lyricist Sheldon Harnick on the Tony Awards in Might 2016.

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Matthew Eisman/Getty Pictures


Broadway lyricist Sheldon Harnick on the Tony Awards in Might 2016.

Matthew Eisman/Getty Pictures

One of many final masters of Broadway’s Golden Age, Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winning lyricist Sheldon Harnick, has died. He wrote Fiddler on the Roof and Fiorello!, amongst different musicals. He died Friday in New York Metropolis of pure causes, in keeping with his publicist. He was 99.

Whether or not he was writing about New York politician Fiorello LaGuardia, fragrance store staff in Budapest, or a Jewish dairyman in pre-revolutionary Russia, Harnick at all times wrote lyrics for particular characters in particular conditions.

“A part of my expertise, as a lyricist,” Harnick informed NPR in 2014, “is that I consider I feel like a playwright, by way of character, in order that I can discover totally different diction, totally different voices for the totally different characters.”

Harnick’s profession prolonged for over 60 years. He got here to New York from Chicago in 1950 and commenced writing songs – each music and lyrics – for topical revues on and off Broadway.

Harnick recalled that it was one other well-known lyricist, E.Y. “Yip” Harburg, the author of Finian’s Rainbow and The Wizard of Oz, who gave him some nice profession recommendation, after listening to a few of Harnick’s tunes.

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He mentioned, Harnick recounted, “‘In my expertise, there are extra succesful theater composers than there are theater lyricists, so you’re going to get invites to work with different individuals, apart from your self.’ He mentioned, ‘Take these invites. It might facilitate your profession.'”

After a few partnerships, Harnick met composer Jerry Bock via a mutual buddy. They hit it off and Harnick signed with Bock’s writer, Tommy Valando.

“And Tommy labored an precise miracle!” Harnick exclaimed. “He obtained Jerry and me the job of writing the songs for a brand new musical known as The Physique Lovely, although Jerry and I had by no means written a track collectively, which remains to be astonishing to me!”

The Physique Lovely was a flop, however producer and director Hal Prince appreciated their work and employed them for a musical known as Fiorello!, which received them a Pulitzer. Prince labored along with Bock and Harnick on 4 exhibits; Prince directed She Loves Me and produced Fiddler on the Roof.

“The number of what they may write was extraordinary,” Prince informed NPR. “The rating of She Loves Me is pretty much as good as any rating they’ve ever written, together with Fiddler. It is so refined and clever. And every thing they wrote was character-driven.”

Sheldon Harnick, heart, with Jerry Bock, left, and actor Alfie Bass in London after it was introduced that Bock would take over the position of Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof in October 1967.

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Fiddler on the Roof was directed by Jerome Robbins. Prince says Robbins wasn’t glad with the unique opening quantity from Fiddler, a track known as “We Have not Missed a Sabbath But,” as a result of it did not clarify what the present was about.

“We met and we met and we met,” Prince defined, “and every time he’d say, ‘However what’s it about? What’s it about?’ And eventually Sheldon – I’ve by no means heard him lose his mood earlier than – mentioned ‘Oh, for God’s sakes, Jerry, it is about custom!’ And Jerry mentioned, ‘That is it! That is what it is about. Write the opening quantity.'”

So Bock and Harnick wrote “Custom.” And Fiddler on the Roof ran for 3,242 performances on Broadway, has performed everywhere in the world, was made into a movie and is consistently being revived. Bock and Harnick labored collectively on a pair extra exhibits, then their partnership broke up. Harnick labored with different composers, amongst them Richard Rodgers and Michel Legrand.

New York College theater professor Laurence Maslon says he thinks Harnick’s exhibits struck a chord with audiences as a result of Harnick himself was such a sympathetic man.

“Sheldon would not have a imply bone in his physique,” Maslon says, “and his generosity simply filters via all this characters. And I feel that is why individuals embraced them, as exhibits, as a result of Sheldon embraced the viewers first, in his lyrics.”

And Sheldon Harnick by no means stopped working in his personal lifetime.

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