Richard Lewine - Obituaries - News - The Independent

Richard Lewine

Broadway composer and TV producer

Richard Lewine composed the music for several Broadway shows starting in the 1930s, but is best known for the ground-breaking work he did as a television producer. The shows and musical specials he produced included Rodgers and Hammerstein's only musical for television, Cinderella (1957), Cole Porter's Aladdin (1958, the last score Porter wrote), and such lauded specials as Barbra Streisand's Emmy- winning My Name is Barbra (1965) and Together with Music (1955), which teamed Noël Coward with Mary Martin.

Richard Lewine, television producer and composer: born New York 28 July 1910; twice married (one son, one daughter); died New York 26 May 2005.

Richard Lewine composed the music for several Broadway shows starting in the 1930s, but is best known for the ground-breaking work he did as a television producer. The shows and musical specials he produced included Rodgers and Hammerstein's only musical for television, Cinderella (1957), Cole Porter's Aladdin (1958, the last score Porter wrote), and such lauded specials as Barbra Streisand's Emmy- winning My Name is Barbra (1965) and Together with Music (1955), which teamed Noël Coward with Mary Martin.

As a vice-president for CBS television from 1952 to 1961, Lewine was in charge of the network's early ventures into colour, and he produced the acclaimed series Leonard Bernstein's Young People's Concerts, which was broadcast from 1957 to 1961. His work as a composer includes the hit revue Make Mine Manhattan (1948), which featured the song "Saturday Night in Central Park" and which made a star of Sid Caesar. Having first written for the musical stage in 1934, Lewine is believed to have been the last surviving Broadway composer of the 1930s.

Born in New York City in 1910, Lewine studied music at Columbia University, but did not graduate. His first Broadway show as a composer was a short-lived revue, Fools Rush In (1934) featuring Imogene Coca, but he had great success three years later with Naughty Naught ('00) (1937), with lyrics by Ted Fetter. Performed at the off- Broadway "American Music Hall" (a converted Swedish church on East 55th Street) it was a vaudeville-style burlesque of Victorian melodramas, with audiences seated at small tables, drinking beer served by singing waiters as they hissed the villain. Between acts, they were treated in the downstairs bar to a variety of acrobatic acts and Irish tenors, and after the curtain fell, everyone sang old college songs.

The formula was enormously popular, and was followed by two similar ventures, The Fireman's Flame (1937) and The Girl From Wyoming (1938), both with songs by Lewine and Fetter. After serving in the Army Signal Corps in the Second World War, attaining the rank of Captain, Lewine returned to Broadway in 1947 with Make Mine Manhattan (lyrics by Arnold Horwitt), the Broadway début of the great comedian Sid Caesar. Caesar described in his autobiography how, then little known, he was originally booked to do only two numbers in the show. By the time it opened he was in 12 of the revue's 21 routines, and his salary had been raised from $250 a week to $1,500. His success prompted NBC to recreate a similar revue weekly on television, which was to result in the legendary Your Show of Shows.

Lewine composed music for two more Broadway revues, neither of them successful. Ziegfeld Follies of 1956 starred Tallulah Bankhead, and satirised former Ziegfeld shows with a number called "A Pretty Girl is Like a Pretty Girl", but closed out of town. The Girls Against the Boys (1959) had a modest hit in "I Gotta Have You" (lyrics by Horwitt) but its run was brief, despite sterling work by its stars, Bert Lahr and Nancy Walker.

By then, though, Lewine had become one of the most important producers in television. In 1956 Julie Andrews was the toast of Broadway in My Fair Lady, and her agent asked Rodgers and Hammerstein if they would be interested in writing a television adaptation of Cinderella for her. Lewine, a second cousin of Rodgers, produced the show, which was televised on 31 March 1957. The single live performance was allegedly watched by 107 million viewers - Rodgers worked out that in a theatre it would have to run for over 100 years to be seen by a similar number.

Videotape had not yet been perfected, but the programme's dress rehearsal was kinescoped, and can be seen today, showcasing Andrews' luminous performance and such beguiling songs as "Impossible", "A Lovely Night", "Do I Love You Because You're Beautiful" and one of Rodgers's splendid waltzes, "Ten Minutes Ago". The following year, Cole Porter agreed to write a similar television musical based on the story of Aladdin, and Lewine hired S.J. Perelman to write a libretto. To help Porter with his work, and in particular to give him ideas for a "catalogue" song he was writing called "Come to the Supermarket", Lewine sent him travel books on Peking and a wealth of research material.

For the title song, Porter had rhymed Aladdin with gladden, sadden and madden, but when his agent questioned the existence of such words, Porter called Lewine to ask his opinion. Lewine replied (referring to a well-known physical fitness expert of the time), "Mr Porter, you may even rhyme it with Bernarr MacFadden - as long as we get the lyrics on time." Broadcast on 21 February 1958, Aladdin did not fare well with the press, and Lewine later blamed himself for not casting the show perfectly - he felt that only Cyril Ritchard and Sal Mineo (as Aladdin) were wholly satisfactory. Ritchard introduced the best-known number, "Come to the Supermarket", which was later recorded by Barbra Streisand and featured on her first television special, My Name is Barbra, produced by Lewine.

Other TV specials he produced included plays by Noël Coward, Blithe Spirit (1956) starring Coward, Claudette Colbert and Lauren Bacall, with Mildred Natwick as Madame Arcati, and This Happy Breed (1956) starring Coward and Edna Best. For two seasons he produced a folk-music series, Hootenanny (1963/64), taped before a live audience at a different college campus every week. It proved controversial when several major stars of the time, including the Kingston Trio and Joan Baez, refused to appear on the show because it continued the 1950s practice of "blacklisting" performers with alleged left-wing views. (The ABC network blamed "sponsor pressure".)

In 1964 Lewine produced and scored a documentary film, The Days of Wilfred Owen, about the British poet, and in 1965 he produced another prestigious television musical based on a children's story, The Dangerous Christmas of Red Riding Hood. Starring Cyril Ritchard, Liza Minnelli and Vic Damone, it had songs by Jule Styne and Bob Merrill, including a show-stopping counter-melody duet for Ritchard and Minnelli called "Ding-a-ling, Ding-a-ling".

Lewine compiled several reference books, including Encyclopedia of Theatre Music (1961), co-written with Alfred Simon. After Richard Rodgers died in 1979, Lewine became managing director of the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organisation, overseeing a difficult transition period.

Tom Vallance

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