Cy Feuer

Partner of Ernest Martin on Broadway hits such as 'Guys and Dolls' and films including 'Cabaret'
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The Independent Online

Seymour Arnold Feuer (Cyrus Feuer), theatre and film producer: born New York 15 January 1911; married 1946 Posy Greenberg (died 2005; one son, one stepson); died New York 17 May 2006.

Cy Feuer produced the film versions of Cabaret and A Chorus Line, but was primarily a theatre producer, one of Broadway's most successful, who with his partner Ernest Martin achieved a notable run of five consecutive hits, including the classic Guys and Dolls.

Feuer and Martin were champions of the show's composer, Frank Loesser, who also wrote the scores for their first hit, Where's Charley? and the Pulitzer Prize-winning How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and their other productions included Cole Porter's Can Can and Silk Stockings, and the Broadway version of Sandy Wilson's The Boy Friend, which marked the American stage début of Julie Andrews.

In their determination to make their shows successful, Feuer and Martin gained a reputation for ruthlessness, to which Feuer responded, "We just believe in doing whatever is necessary to get shows right." He added,

We have the reputation of being s.o.b.s but we feel like a couple of white knights - like we're St George and everybody else is the dragon. Actors are lucky to be working for us - it ensures lengthy employment.

When the team produced The Boy Friend on Broadway, the acrimony between them and the show's creators - the writer-composer Sandy Wilson and Vida Hope - became such that Wilson and Hope were barred from the theatre during rehearsals. "Sure we're tough," said Feuer, "but in this business nice guys finish in Philadelphia."

Born Seymour Arnold Feuer ("It rhymes with sewer and is mispronounced as foyer") in 1911 in New York City, he graduated from Juilliard with ambitions to play the trumpet in a symphony orchestra but instead played in the pit of the Radio City Music Hall.

In the mid-Thirties he became head of the music department at Republic Pictures ("I've written some pretty good Debussy in my time"), where he first met Frank Loesser. In 1946 he met Ernest Martin, a programme director at CBS radio in Hollywood, and the two "pushed their way into the theatre with our elbows and teeth". With Martin handling the business side of the partnership, and Feuer the "artistic", they produced their first hit, Where's Charley? (1948), which they shrewdly tailored for the great comic and eccentric dancer Ray Bolger. Frank Loesser was originally to be the lyricist only, with the music by Harold Arlen, but when Arlen's house in California burned down he asked to withdraw from the project, and Loesser asked if he could write both words and music.

Though given lukewarm reviews by critics, who loved Bolger but not the show, Where's Charley?, based on the farce Charley's Aunt by Brandon Thomas, was a popular hit due to Bolger's hilarious cavorting as the Oxford student who impersonates his own aunt ("from Brazil, where the nuts come from") and the Loesser score which included a hit ballad, "My Darling, My Darling", and a show-stopping number for Bolger, "Once in Love with Amy", in which the star invited the audience to sing along with him. The score also included "Make a Miracle", a duet for Bolger and his leading lady, Allyn Ann McLerie, that established a Loesser trademark of contrapuntal numbers in which one character interrupted another (such as the later "Baby It's Cold Outside" and "Sue Me").

Where's Charley? was filmed in England in 1952, and though not inspired it preserves Bolger's comic performance and fine dancing - unfortunately, restrictions by the Loesser estate currently prohibit its availability.

Feuer/Martin's legendary five-hit run continued with Guys and Dolls (1950), Can Can (1953), The Boy Friend (1954) and Silk Stockings (1955), and even the producers' rivals acknowledged that Feuer had a keen analytical eye. Confessing "an insatiable desire to tinker", he said, "Hits are made, not born. A show needs constant, careful grooming."

Guys and Dolls, which has taken its place as one of the finest musical comedies ever, was hailed from the start as a masterpiece, with a great libretto to match its peerless score, and a perfect blending of plot, music and lyrics, but to reach that perfection Feuer and Martin worked through over 10 different librettists before asking a former radio scriptwriter, Abe Burrows, to work on the show. George S. Kaufman, their canny choice of director, is also believed to have had a hand in honing the adaptation of Damon Runyon's stories for the musical stage.

Among the changes made during the six-week tryout tour was the conversion of Miss Adelaide (played by the former movie star Vivian Blaine) from a striptease artist who caught colds because of her profession, to a night-club singer (so that audiences would be more sympathetic to her plight). Loesser promptly rewrote her show-stopping number, "Adelaide's Lament", to make her colds psychosomatic, caused by her fiancé's constantly postponing their wedding.

Feuer and Martin's next show, Can Can, was far less favourably received by critics, but a colourful production, Cole Porter songs and a star-making performance by Gwen Verdon made it a solid hit. It was followed by The Boy Friend (1954), starring Julie Andrews. Feuer said, "Julie was under 18 at the time, and Ernie had to sign on as her guardian." For Broadway, Feuer made the orchestra into a 1920s band instead of the small group that had accompanied the show in London:

We called them the Bearcats, dressed them in black-and-yellow blazers, and put them in the pit to play the overture. And they stood up and sat down like an old-fashioned band with clarinets, saxes. We played the opening number with the lights on the orchestra, and they finished it to a tremendous burst of applause. We raised the curtain. The maid is on the telephone: "Hello, hello." But we couldn't go on. We had to stop the show for the orchestra, have them stand up and take a bow while she was waiting on the stage.

That was one of two great showstoppers in our career. The other was with Gwen Verdon in Can Can. They talk about show-stoppers, but these two really stopped the show.

Feuer and Martin worked with Cole Porter again on Silk Stockings (the composer's final Broadway show), based on the film comedy Ninotchka (1939), with Hildegarde Neff in the role created by Greta Garbo. It was initially poorly received, but the producers kept it on tour for several months until it was ready for Broadway, where it became another hit for the team.

Their winning streak finally ended with Whoop-Up (1958), a musical set on a modern-day Indian reservation. It lasted only 59 performances, but it was followed by a reunion of the producers with most of the creative talent behind Guys and Dolls for an adaptation of Shepherd Mead's 1952 book How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, which proved another triumph of wittily integrated book and score, its merit as a script winning it the Pulitzer Prize for drama.

With a run of 1,417 performances, it was the last gigantic hit that Feuer and Martin produced, though Little Me (1962), with book by Neil Simon and score by Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh, was popular, and Skyscraper (1965) ran for nearly a year primarily because of the drawing power of its star, Julie Harris. Feuer and Martin's last Broadway show was The Act (1977), a vehicle for Liza Minnelli with songs by Kander and Ebb.

In 1972 Feuer produced the Oscar-winning film version of Cabaret, starring Minnelli, Michael York and (an original cast member) Joel Grey. Feuer entrusted the project to Bob Fosse after his first choice of director, Gene Kelly, decided he could not leave his ailing wife to go to Germany. Fosse, who had directed only one other film, the coolly received Sweet Charity (1969), won one of the nine Oscars awarded the film.

I met Feuer when, while attending the Berlin Film Festival, I was invited to watch location shooting for Cabaret at Charlottenberg, and found him to be a feisty, tough little fellow who lived up to his reputation as a Damon Runyonesque character himself, still angry at what he considered the unnecessary recent death (in 1969) of Frank Loesser:

He chain-smoked - 40 or 50 a day - and resolutely refused to give it up although he was told it was killing him.

Feuer later produced, less happily, the screen version of another Broadway triumph, A Chorus Line (1985), directed by Richard Attenborough.

Ernest Martin died in 1995, and Feuer's wife Posy died last year. In 2003 he published his autobiography, I Got the Show Right Here.

During his career Cy Feuer was nominated for nine Tony Awards, and won three (one for Guys and Dolls, the other two for How to Succeed), and in 2003 he was given an honorary Tony for lifetime achievement. Last night the lights of Broadway theatres were dimmed in his honour.

Tom Vallance