Sheldon Harnick revisits the past, offers new work

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

NEW YORK (AP) — Sheldon Harnick has been hard at work on something new, something old, something very old and something fixed.

The 89-year-old Tony- and Grammy Award-winning lyricist and writer has gotten the opportunity from The York Theatre Company to rummage around in his attic and rework or present some of the musicals that got away.

What's emerged is the debut of "Dragons" based on a play he saw 50 years ago, the premiere of his "Malpractice Makes Perfect," a new script for "Smiling, The Boy Fell Dead" and an edited "Tenderloin," which first appeared on Broadway more than 50 years ago.

"I haven't had much time to think about myself or anything else but just getting all this work done," Harnick said this week. On the chance to fix old problems, he laughed: "We writers never want to stop."

Harnick is perhaps best known for teaming up with composer Jerry Bock to create the powerhouse musical-theater songwriting duo behind "Fiddler on the Roof," ''Fiorello!" and "The Apple Tree."

But the York series offers Harnick a chance to offer overlooked or new work in a stripped-down staged concert series. It kicked off earlier this month with a 23-song sampling of his career-spanning songs.

Next comes "Dragons" — being staged Jan. 31-Feb. 2 — based on Yevgeny Schwartz's play "The Dragon," which Harnick saw in 1963 and thought cried out to be made into a musical.

"I loved the first act and was sort of puzzled by the second act. But I decided to try to adapt it as a musical anyway," he said. "I was never able to solve the second act."

He picked up the script again a few months ago and enjoyed rereading it until he got to the last 12 pages. "Suddenly after 10 years I had an idea for how to fix it."

After "Dragons," Harnick offers a new musical based on the Moliere comedy "The Doctor in Spite of Himself" from Feb. 14-16. Harnick has recently renamed it "Malpractice Makes Perfect," which means revising the opening number.

The third offering is an off-Broadway flop from 1960 called "Smiling, the Boy Fell Dead," based on a book by Ira Wallach. Harnick found five different copies of the old script and each had wonderful material by Wallach that wasn't in the others. So he created a new amalgam, which plays Feb. 21-23.

Lastly is "Tenderloin," which ran for six months on Broadway in 1960-61 and was recently trimmed for an Encores! concert. "When I saw that version, I thought, 'That's the way the show should be.' So that's the version we're going to do." It runs March 7-9.

There's more Harnick songs on the horizon: A two-CD collection of rare or unreleased music will be out soon including Audra MacDonald singing a lost recording from a "Free to Be... You and Me" album. It will also include a rendition of "Sunrise, Sunset."

"I said, 'Wait a minute, that's not a hidden treasure,'" Harnick said. "They said, 'It is with you singing it.' So that'll be in there with Jerry Bock playing piano and me singing."