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by Michael Portantiere

Up Close and Personal With Alan and Marilyn Bergman

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    Like most other songwriters, Alan and Marilyn Bergman are less well known by their own names than by the titles of the songs for which they have so beautifully written the lyrics: "The Way We Were," "It Might Be You," "The Windmills of Your Mind," "You Don't Bring Me Flowers," "Yellow Bird," and so many others.

    Fans of the couple, who have been married for 55 years, will have a chance to get "Up Close and Personal" with them when they appear at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) this coming Friday, December 13. In a program moderated by Michael Kerker, Director of Musical Theatre for ASCAP, the Bergmans will reminisce about their career(s), and special guest artists Tyne Daly, Christine Ebersole, and Lari White will sing some of the highlights from their catalog. I myself had a chance to schmooze with the Bergmans recently, when I called them at their home in L.A. before they headed east to Jersey. (For more information on the concert, or to order tickets, visit www.njpac.org)


    BROADWAYSTARS: I'm so excited about this program at NJPAC, with Michael Kerker chatting up you guys. I understand you've done this program with him before, in other places?

    MARILYN BERGMAN: Yes. It's a conversation between the three of us. Alan sings a little bit, and we have friends who are going to perform.

    ALAN BERGMAN: And we show some film clips of the work. We've done this at the Kennedy Center, and at a couple of universities. Michael is very good at it.

    STARS: You're going to have such great people singing with you.

    MARILYN: Yes. Tyne Daly, Christine Ebersole, and Lari White. Do you know Lari White?

    STARS: I do. She has a beautiful voice.

    ALAN: She does a wonderful medley from Yentl.

    MARILYN: She says that, as the daughter of a Baptist minister, she understands -- how does she put it?

    ALAN: A patriarchal society.

    MARILYN: Yes! She says she understands a patriarchal society as well as any Jewish girl. She introduces herself as a shiksa Yentl.

    STARS: Have you worked with Christine before?

    MARILYN: No, but we met her in Costa Mesa when Michael did a program like this with Stephen Sondheim. She sang wonderfully.

    STARS: I know you've known Tyne for several years because she has done your musical Ballroom.

    ALAN: Yeah, she's just terrific.

    STARS: Can you tell me, what's the current status of that show? All of the music for the original version was by Billy Goldenberg, but I know Marvin Hamlisch was involved in revising the score with you before his death.

    ALAN: He was. Then a group of producers from London came to us, and they're very anxious to get it on next season. Billy Goldenberg is back, and we've written several new songs with him.

    STARS: So, would this production have music by both Goldenberg and Hamlisch?

    MARILYN: No, only Billy's music. We were going to write additional songs with Marvin, but it was always going to be basically Billy's score.

    ALAN: We never got a chance to finish our work with Marvin, unfortunately.

    STARS: I'm sure the album of your songs that Barbra Streisand released in 2011 was a huge thrill for you both.

    ALAN: Oh, my goodness. It's a thrill whenever she sings one of our songs.

    MARILYN: Sixty-four of our songs, she's recorded.

    STARS: What was the first one?

    ALAN: It was a song called "Ask Yourself Why," on her album What About Today?

    STARS: Was that a stand-alone song, or was it written for a film?

    MARILYN: You and Michael [Kerker] use that phrase, "stand-alone song." I never heard it before! But yes, it was a stand-alone song.

    STARS: There's something I don't know if you've talked about before, and you may not want to. In the stage musical of The Producers, there's a song called "That Face," and it sounds VERY much like the song of the same title that Alan wrote decades ago with Lew Spence. I'm sure you must be aware of it.

    ALAN: Oh, yes. Marvin [Hamlisch] saw that show on opening night, and he called me and said, "Sue!"

    STARS: What did you think when you first heard it?

    MARILYN: I was shocked. I'm still shocked, when I think about it. Melodically, the opening is very similar -- not just the lyrics.

    ALAN: I wrote that for Marilyn as an engagement present.

    MARILYN: We tried once to bring the subject up to Mel Brooks, but he danced around it. What are you gonna do? It's Mel Brooks! And I guess it's the sincerest form of flattery.

    STARS: I must ask you about a musical I knew nothing of until I just looked it up: Your show Something More. It ran on Broadway for about a month in November 1964, with music by Sammy Fain, and it was directed by Jule Styne, of all people.

    MARILYN: Jule called us one evening and said, "Would you like to do a show with me?" We said, "Yes!" But it turned out he was offering himself as a director.

    STARS: I couldn't believe that when I read it.

    MARILYN: We couldn't believe it when we did it! Jule's idea was to put together two young lyrics writers with a seasoned composer, and of course, we knew who Sammy Fain was. He was a dear man, and a wonderful songwriter.

    STARS: Barbara Cook was in the show.

    ALAN: And Arthur Hill...

    MARILYN: ... who had come straight from Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. He couldn't sing or dance.

    STARS: Was that the only show Styne ever directed?

    ALAN: He didn't direct it all the way through; they brought in Joe Layton.

    STARS: Really. Well, we don't have to talk about it anymore...

    MARILYN: No, we don't!

    ALAN: But Barbara Cook was wonderful in that show, I must say.

    STARS: Before I let you go, I must ask you about Frank Sinatra, who had a big hit with your song "Nice 'n' Easy." Did you know him well?

    MARILYN: Well, I wouldn't say intimately, but we knew him for many, many years.

    ALAN: He was very nice to us, called us "the kids." We had dinner with him about six months before he died, and he was still calling us "the kids."

    STARS: And to think of the composers you've worked with...

    ALAN: We've been very, very fortunate with composers.

    MARILYN: We lost two of the best over the past few years: Marvin Hamlisch and Cy Coleman.

    ALAN: With Cy, we wrote a show called Like Jazz, and it had a ten-week run out here at the Mark Taper Forum. We're still trying to get it on again somewhere. It's about jazz and the people who play it and sing it.

    MARILYN: Larry Gelbart wrote the text. It's not really a book.

    STARS: You mean, it's sort of halfway between a musical and a revue?

    MARILYN: Yes, but with all original songs.

    ALAN: John Doyle has heard the score, and he loves it, so hopefully...

    MARILYN: Someday!

    Published on Tuesday, December 10, 2013

    Michael Portantiere has more than 30 years' experience as an editor and writer for TheaterMania.com, InTHEATER magazine, and BACK STAGE. He has interviewed theater notables for NPR.org, PLAYBILL, STAGEBILL, and OPERA NEWS, and has written notes for several cast albums. Michael is co-author of FORBIDDEN BROADWAY: BEHIND THE MYLAR CURTAIN, published in 2008 by Hal Leonard/Applause. Additionally, he is a professional photographer whose pictures have been published by THE NEW YORK TIMES, the DAILY NEWS, and several major websites. (Visit www.followspotphoto.com for more information.) He can be reached at [email protected]

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