Saturday, June 23, 2012

FAREWELL: Richard Adler

I wouldn't be too surprised to find that when the news of Richard Adler's passing at the age of 90 on June 21st started showing up on Twitter, news feeds and theatre sites, that many people hooked into them were wondering, "Who was Richard Adler?"  I am equally certain that when people found out he was half of the writing team that created  two classic musicals, Damn Yankees and The Pajama Game, many of them had one of those "ah-ha! moments."  But even after that, if you still had no idea who the man was, I bet you know at least one of his songs.

With his writing partner, Jerry Ross, Adler created music and lyrics for two back-to-back Tony-winning Best Musicals: 1955's The Pajama Game and 1956's Damn Yankees.  After Ross' death hewent on to write music and lyrics for just one show, the short-lived Kwamina, and the music for the even shorter-lived Music Is..., an adaptation of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, which he also co-produced.  Later, he was a producer of yet another flop, Rex and a 70's revival of The Pajama Game.

But it was his two Tony-winning shows that will be his greatest legacy.  Both shows have been revived in the last two decades and are perennials in regional, community and school theatres.  Four of his songs are a permanent part of the American Songbook and are constantly in pop culture:  "Heart" and "What Ever Lola Wants, Lola Gets" from Damn Yankees and "Steam Heat" and "Hernando's Hideaway" from The Pajama Game. Even today, people of all ages could probably hum "Hernando's Hideaway" if prompted by a few notes.

Though I am not a big fan of The Pajama Game, I still thrill to "Steam Heat," and enjoy Bob Fosse's choreography of the number - funny, sassy and sinfully sexy - readily available from the PBS taping of  Fosse, which also includes a brief section of "The Blooper Ballet" and most of "Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, Mo." from Damn Yankees.  I am a much bigger fan of Yankees and find nearly every song a delight.  Who can sit still during "Who's Got the Pain?"  Or how about the smart lyrics of "Six Months Out of Every Year"?  The romantic and so simple it hurts "Near to You"?  And there is the amazing combination of book, music and lyrics of the courtroom scene in act two.

Still, it says so much about Adler's legacy that his two Latin-tinged tunes ("Hernando" and "Lola") are so much a part of American Pop culture that generations have heard it in revivals, variety shows, films and even commercials.  That "Whatever Lola Wants" still grabs the attention some 67 years since its debut speaks volumes, even if it is for a Diet Pepsi commercial.  (And it still retains its fun, sleek and sexy ways even in that context!)

I think it is pretty sweet that my 5 year old niece sings that song on cue and every time that commercial comes on.  When she's old enough, and when there is another revival of the classic, just maybe I'll get to take her and watch her eyes light up when that vamp starts.  By then, the song will likely be 75 years old or more, and another generation will fall in love with Lola, Joe and Applegate all over again.  What a great legacy.

Thank you for that, Mr. Adler.  Rest in peace.

@jkstheatrescene (Twitter); (email); Comment below (Blogger)

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