September 27, 2006
Richard Adler: The Music Man
Richard Adler, Broadway's legendary show tune composer and lyricist, is celebrating his 85th year and says, "I'm busier now than when I was in my 40s."
The legend — his Damn Yankees score is one of the most beloved of all time —is still going strong with a third Broadway production of The Pajama Game, which previewed in February and ran (with sold out performances) until June. "It could have run for 10 years. It made me happy," Adler remarked. "It [is] a bigger hit now than it was 53 years ago when it first opened."
When the show was originally brought to the Broadway stage in 1955 it garnered three Tony awards. How could it fail with George Abbott and Jerome Robbins directing, Bob Fosse choreographing and the dream team of Adler and Jerry Ross penning the lyrics and music?
On Saturday, for one night only, the composer will host "An Evening with Richard Adler" at Guild Hall's John Drew Theater in East Hampton to benefit CancerCare. Adler battled throat cancer several years ago and said he wanted to give to the organization, which is dedicated to helping people survive cancer. So when Gary Wohl, the president of the Hamptons Board of Managers for CancerCare asked him, he happily accepted.
As a child, Adler wrote poetry, but it wasn't until he was 19 when his father asked him, "Why don't you write lyrics? You could make more money at it," the composer recalled. Musical theater soon became a lifelong passion for him.
"My great mentor, friend and teacher, George Abbott, literally invented musical theater," Adler said. "In my estimate the Broadway musicals of today are nothing like they were 50 years ago when there were great shows by Irving Berlin, Rodgers and Hammerstein and Cole Porter — who incidentally became a very close friend of mine."
The friendship kindled between Porter and Adler had an unique beginning.
"I was sitting in the barbershop one day getting a haircut when a call came in for me," Adler began. "I went to the phone and in a high-pitched tone a gentleman said, 'Hi, this is Cole Porter.' I thought Sammy Davis Jr. was playing a joke on me so I replied, 'Yeah, and I'm Irving Berlin.' But he insisted he was Porter and said that he'd seen my musical Damn Yankees five times and wanted me to meet him for dinner. So I did and we became close friends."
Porter, said Adler, became obsessed with "Whatever Lola Wants," the song from the show. "One day over lunch he took it apart to figure out how I wrote it."
Adler also penned "You Gotta Have Heart," for the show, considered to be one of the generation's most endearing songs. He has an autobiography by the same name published in 1990.
A latest version of The Pajama Game starred Harry Connick Jr., Sid Sorokin and Kelly O'Hara, who, Adler noted, "will be a big star within a year. I added a song called 'The Three of Us,' which I originally wrote for Jimmy Durante in the late 1960s, but he died three days before the recording session."
Adler splits his time between Southampton and New York City where he was born during the roaring 20s. Having achieved great fame and success, he still doesn't neglect the smaller things in life, spending 40 minutes every day swimming laps, for example, "and that's without stopping. I'm 85 . . . so that's not too bad," he said with pride.
And he makes sure to count his blessings. "I'm a very lucky man, I've had a career for over half a century and it keeps going," he said. "I'm not afraid like I used to be. I don't place that much importance on it any more. I don't need to worry any longer about money or acclaim. All that is important to me is good health, that's why I swim, eat good and get enough rest."
The Guild Hall show Saturday will commence at 8 p.m. with ticket prices starting at $40. Call (212) 712-8325 or go to firstname.lastname@example.org.