Composer Cy Coleman. Among those honoring Coleman at upcoming benefit include: Tony Bennett, Chita Rivera and Glenn Close
That Broadway feeling
Gala honors legendary composer Cy Coleman who, at 73, is still hard at work
By Jerry Tallmer
Cy Coleman, the Mr. Broadway of composers from John Murray Andersons Almanac 51 years ago all the way through to 2004s in-progress It Started Like a Dream is twice the recipient of a Johnny Mercer award, but lyricist Mercer and musics Coleman never, as it happens, wrote a song together.
A deep flirtation never realized, is how Coleman cheerfully characterizes that circumstance.
The first Johnny Mercer award to go to Coleman was from the Songwriters Hall of Fame, seven or eight years ago. The second will be at a gala of the Johnny Mercer Foundation on Monday night, November 15, in the Rainbow Room.
I knew Johnny from when even before 51 years ago I was playing in jazz clubs, Coleman said one recent noontime. Hed come in to hear me. I admired him a lot.
I once said: Johnny, why dont we do a show together? but he never had that Broadway feeling. He said: Okay, Cy, just send me the tunes to California, and Ill write the words. He used to do that for people like Blossom Dearie; Johnny was very generous in that respect. But [for a Broadway show] it wasnt going to work that way.
Later I got to know his wife [Ginger Mercer, creator of the Johnny Mercer Foundation] who was important in ASCAP, said the Cy Coleman who is himself married to a stunner, Shelby Brown, young enough to be his daughter but old enough to be the mother of their daughter, Lily Cye Coleman, age 4. Lily Cyes father is 73.
Shelbys from Montana. She and I met at a friends house in Mexico. Somehow we were thrown together at lunch. Then she came up to New York, and we had lunch, and Bronx-born Seymour Kaufman said dryly that was the end of it. We lived together five years, weve been married seven.
Putting in a Cy Coleman song or two at the Rainbow Room will be old friend Tony Bennett.
Tony and I talk a lot together. We get into philosophy, said Coleman. What about? Just about the world in general. Were very similar in that.
Tony Bennett years ago started singing the haunting songs, full of the juice of love and irony, that Cy Coleman wrote with Caroline Leigh; theres a Tony Bennett Sings Cy Coleman album and Bennett sings The Colors of My Life on the newest Coleman album from Sony. But for all that, Cy Coleman never wrote a song for Tony Bennett.
You know, Ive never written a song for anybody, except for in a show, said Coleman. For Sid Caesar, for instance, in Little Me, or for Lucille Ball in Wildcat. You have to do it if their vocal ability isnt all that great. For Lucille I wrote Hey Look Me Over and for Sid it was Real Live Girl one of the great ones, by the way, to this listener/fantasist.
In a show I write for character and for the person. When its not in a show, I just write for myself.
Organizers of the Nov. 15 event are the cabaret worlds great Margaret Whiting and her husband Jack Wrangler.
Oh, Margaret Whiting, said Coleman, in something like awe. Always a very pure singer. I dont think Ive ever worked with her . . . Wait a minute. She did a piece from Wildcat that unfortunately did not survive into the show, but it survived in a duet by her and Mel Torme a combination of two songs, Youre Away From Home and Angelina.
Another Nov. 15 headliner: Chita Rivera.
One of my favorite people. She did Sweet Charity on the road and in the film. Chita is the ultimate professional, and shes really one of the guys one of those people who keeps a show really happy. A presence. A positive presence.
And another: Glenn Close.
What a hard worker! When she came to audition for Barnum, all she said to me was: What do you want? Then shed go off and come back, and shed have it. Shes the type Hollywood always wants, always needs: a Bette Davis, a Katharine Hepburn.
Not listed among the galas notables is playwright Wendy Wasserstein, who might just materialize anyway. She and Cy Coleman and City of Angels lyricist David Zippel have been cooking up that It Started With a Dream, a project for Broadway derived from Ms. Wassersteins 1998 childrens book Pamelas First Musical.
Its had two readings at Lincoln Center, and now, says Coleman, the Goodspeed Opera in Connecticut wants to put it on.
Also looking for a destination is what at present is titled Like Jazz or Portraits in Jazz, a musical collectively sired by Marilyn and Alan Bergman, Larry (City of Angels) Gelbart, and Cy (City of Angels) Coleman. Its about the people who live in the world of jazz, says the 2004 Johnny Mercer Awardee, Not just about the people who perform it but also the people behind it.
Look out. One of them one day soon may be named Lily Cye. She seems to be taking to lyrics, says Lily Cye Colemans father.