Published in KPBS On Air Magazine April 1998
You’d think she could just ‘Walk on By.’ Having served as choreographer for two of Broadway’s biggest blockbuster musicals (“Cats”), and (“The Phantom of the Opera”), not to mention nine lives of international stage, TV and film productions, you’d think Gillian Lynne might ‘never fall in love again,’ theatrically speaking. So, ‘what’s it all about’?
At a ripe age which she won’t disclose, the feisty, spunky and indomitable Ms. Lynne has recently conceived (with Kenny Solms) a new bound-for Broadway baby: a modern-day musical fable based on the work of that star-studded songwriting duo, Burt Bacharach and Hal David. The forerunner of this piece was a BBC special that aired in 1990. That, she says, “showed me that you could weave a story through these wonderful songs… Burt and Hal trusted me, and they liked the TV special, so they gave me the rights.” (“She’s terrific,” says Hal David. “I feel good being in her hands”).
The new show, which Lynne originally wanted to call ”Anyone Who Had a Heart” (she was overridden because of the higher name recognition of “What the World Needs Now”), was workshopped successfully last May at the Roundabout Theatre in New York, which is co-producing the Old Globe world premiere (April 2-May 3) before the show heads back to the Big Apple for a June 25 opening.
The new musical comes with a few disclaimers:
1) It’s not a revue; it’s a book musical. “I don’t like revues,” says Lynne (who created and directed “Tomfoolery,” a revue of the works of brilliant satirist Tom Lehrer). Nonetheless, she admits that “there’s very, very little dialogue” in the new creation. Instead, there is what Lynne calls ‘thatching,’ a “total interweaving” of all elements, including a good deal of dancing, as one would expect from this award-winning choreographer.
2) This is not old, overworked material. During their 15-year collaboration, Bacharach/David churned out some of the most popular songs of the sixties and early seventies. Their pop-tunes have been covered by many artists — though some of the best-known (the show’s title number as well as “Alfie,” “Walk on By,” “I’ll Never Fall in Love”) will always be associated with Dionne Warwick.
Lately, however, the duo’s work has seen a massive resurgence of popularity. In addition to a New York showcase and an L.A. revival of the team’s one previous stage musical, 1968’s “Promises, Promises,” a recent multi-disc set of Bacharach songs was a runaway hit in Britain, where the hipster cocktail lounge sound has become vogue, and a 3-disc retrospective will soon appear in the U.S. Tribute recordings abound, from jazz pianist McCoy Tyner to alternative bands like Yo La Tengo and Hooverphonic. Bacharach recently collaborated with Elvis Costello for a new album that grew out of “God Give Me Strength,” the song the two co-wrote for the film, “Grace of My Heart.” The composer even made a cameo appearance (playing a piano-with-candelabra on top of a moving bus) in the ultra-retro movie, “Austin Powers,” and his music was featured in “My Best Friend’s Wedding.”
Meanwhile, Hal David, the Songwriters Hall of Famer who’s won every major award the music industry can bestow, is in the studio recording a CD of himself singing his own lyrics (“This Guy’s in Love with You,” “To All the Girls I’ve Loved,” and others). Now in his seventies, like his collaborators, David is still writing songs and making records, and is tickled by all the attention. (He even likes the Snackwell cookies commercial that features “The Look of Love”). And he’s pretty excited about this new musical, even though he and Bacharach are not directly involved in it at all.
“It’s much more of a show than “Back to Bacharach and David”,” the revue of the duo’s works. “In this case,” says David, “the dialogue comes out of the songs, and the songs and lyrics drive the story, not the other way around, as in “Promises”” (which was adapted by Neil Simon from the Billy Wilder film, “The Apartment,” and was the source of the fabulously popular “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again”).
Although Bacharach and David composed an additional song for last year’s City Center Encore production of “Promises, Promises,” there will be no new work for this show. “There’s an incredible wealth of music,” Lynne gushes with characteristic energy and enthusiasm. “People have shmoozed, gone in lifts, made love to this music. It’s like visiting an old friend. But the extra plus is, with these very youthful performers, it’s as if it’s brand new. Hal David is one of the world’s best lyricists. He never wastes a word; he pares down to the essence of feeling. And it all comes out as absolutely fresh.”
The musical concerns two guys exploring commitment, uncertainty, forgiveness and romance. There’s Arnie and Alfie (how else would they squeeze in that song — Hal David’s personal favorite?). One’s completely careless with women, and the other never scores. Through 8-10 “little, tiny, very witty scenes,” and 20-30 songs, they both make “a journey to find love.” The dancing, adds Lynne, “mostly jazz-classical, not at all typical Broadway — tells a story as well.”
The director/choreographer still dances; “I work the things out on my own body.” She also worked things out with collaborator Kenny Solms. “We’re the most unlikely couple; I’m a driven English woman and he’s a laid-back Californian. His approach is so alien to mine, but we have a great working relationship. I don’t like working unless it’s a wonderful atmosphere.”
She has accumulated a truckload of veteran talent (Bob Crowley, Harold Wheeler, Alex Rybeck) to form a wonderful creative team, but she admits that “the making of a musical is such a difficult thing, one must always have a great deal of humility. Let’s pray this will work. Look for me on opening night; I’ll be the thin woman with the drawn face.”
©1998 Patté Productions Inc.