Yesterday, Marvin Hamlisch went out in a most deserved way – with a ‘sold out’ house – as a most appreciative and heartbroken group of family, fans, including myself – and colleagues, packed the same synagogue – Temple Emanu-El – where 67 years ago the life of another great composer – George Gershwin – who also died too young – was also celebrated. It was so fitting for this composer whose songs, like Gershwin’s, will also live on forever – to have his life also celebrated in this same holy and sacred sanctuary.
Marvin was the ultimate mensch, a mentor, a very funny guy, a composer of timeless songs, Broadway musicals, film scores, and so much more. This was a man who, as all the speakers reminisced, “Never said No” when asked to help raise money for charities, and who inspired and mentored a new generation of young musicians and actors. He was the caring man who always made sure that his Rabbi and family were given front row tickets for all his ‘hometown’ performances, and introduced them after the show backstage as part of his family.
The word ‘grateful’ was recited over and over during the beautiful yet heartbreaking service.
And there was a choir that his wife of 26 years Terre told the audience had grown from only a few singers to dozens of colleagues – performers, composers, lyricists – admirers all – including lyricist Sheldon Harnick and actress Lucy Arnaz, who starred in Marvin’s They’re Playing Our Song and countless others – too many to name – whose voices lifted to the top of Temple Emanu-El – with their spine-tingling and emotional renditions of “The Way We Were” and ‘What I Did for Love.” And Idina Menzel sang a gorgeous rendition of ‘At the Ballet’ as the choir and ‘audience’ joined in. These are three songs that will live on until the end of eternity as will his other countless ‘hits,’ including “Nobody Does it Better” and ‘The Entertainer.” The Hamlisch Songbook is sure to inspire generations yet to come.
Even the breathtaking stained glass windows were shimmering with heavenly colors and light for this divine creator of beautiful songs.
This celebration of Marvin Hamlisch’s was filled with funny rememberances by his best friend of almost 5 decades, his Rabbi, who stated that his friend had a “Lev Tov” – a good heart, a CEO of a large corporation, married philanthropists, and President William Jefferson Clinton who thanked Marvin for all his efforts in raising money for his foundation, and reminded the ‘house’ that Marvin Hamlisch was a ‘hilarious genius.’
And when his wife Terre took the podium she reminded everyone about her husband’s generosity and that he ‘Never said, No!’ She then had the audience in stitches when she told how when she was having a tough time her Oscar, Emmy, Tony, Grammy, and Golden Globe-winning husband would ‘create’ and perform a new musical in bed to cheer her up, acting and singing all the roles and new songs. I could see this ‘kid at heart’ jumping up and down the bed as he cheered up his wife.
Personally, I have been to other memorial services and funerals of other legends but I have never seen so much love and grief and humor as I saw and felt yesterday. Seeing so many DCers there yesterday and at his visitation the night before and hearing those who were touched by his work and generosity – reminded me how lucky we were to have Marvin Hamlisch here at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts, The Kennedy Center, and Wolf Trap conducting The NSO and NSO Pops the only way he could – with enthusiasm and joy. And when he schmoozed with his ‘guest stars’ during these popular concerts – well – it was priceless.
To me, the NSO Pops, Wolf Trap, and the Center for the Arts’ concerts will never be the same.
The saddest thing for me is that his new musical The Nutty Professor, which recently opened in Nashville to wonderful reviews opened without him being there to celebrate. Hopefully we will enjoy it on The Great White Way soon.
And when the entire swell of attendees rose to pay tribute – as ‘one’ – to sing “What I Did for Love” the tears flowed because despite all the humor, all the tributes, all the heartwarming stories we heard yesterday – reality hit me and everyone who sat around me – Raul Esparza, Brian d’arcy James, Kelli O’Hara, Richard Gere, life-long friend Liza Minnelli, and everyone who attended – like a ‘thud.’ For Marvin Hamlsich was gone, and although we will not see him again conducting on our local stages, his music and generosity will live on forever in everyone he touched. Those memories will always be in the corner of my mind and heart.
I will miss Marvin Hamlisch, but I will never forget him.
Read Jane and Joshua Coyne’s tribute to Marvin Hamlisch on DC Theater Arts.
Jane Coyne reviews Marvin Hamlisch’s NSO concert at Wolf Trap on July 13, 2012.