A Lovefest for a Mensch – A Celebration of the Life of Marvin Hamlisch at Temple Emanu-El by Joel Markowitz

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.

Photo by Shel Secunda.

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 Oct. 12, 1983 file photo shows composer Marvin Hamlisch, left, and theatrical producer Joseph Papp at the record-breaking 3,389th performance of the musical “A Chorus Line.” AP Photo, file.

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.

Vintage Hamlisch.

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.

In this Feb. 5, 2011 publicity image released by the New York Philharmonic, Marvin Hamlisch, left, conducts while Idina Menzel performs with the New York Philharmonic at Avery Fisher Hall in New York. Photo credit: AP Photo/New York Philharmonic by Chris Lee. Idina Menzel performed ”At the Ballet’ at yesterday’s funeral service.


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.

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Joel Markowitz
Joel Markowitz is the Publisher and Editor of DCMetroTheaterArts. He founded the site with his brother Bruce to help promote the vast riches of theatre and the arts in the DC Metro area that includes Maryland, Virginia, and DC theater and music venues, universities, schools, Children's theaters, professional, and community theatres. Joel is an advocate for promoting the 'stars of the future' in his popular 'Scene Stealers' articles. He wrote a column for 5 years called ‘Theatre Schmooze’ and recorded podcast interviews for DC Theatre Scene. His work can also be seen and read on BroadwayStars. Joel also wrote a monthly preview of what was about to open in DC area theatres for BroadwayWorld. He is an avid film and theater goer, and a suffering Buffalo Bills and Sabres fan. Joel was a regular guest on 'The Lunch and Judy Show' radio program starring Judy Stadt in NYC. Joel founded The Ushers Theatre Going Group in the DC area in 1990, which had a 25-year run when it took its final curtain call last year. Joel is a proud member of The American Critics Association.


  1. Great article–saw him conduct the Gershwin program at Wolf Trap a few weeks ago — he was dynamic but looked much more frail, talked about his back hurting…and still, the show was fantastic! What he did for love…for music…for our spirits is immeasurable. Thank you, Mr. Hamlisch!

  2. Beautiful, touching article – brings tears to my eyes. He WAS a mensch. He will be greatly missed by many. What a sad, huge, and tremendous loss.


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