Yesterday, I had the privilege of attending a presentation by Laurence Maslon, an arts professor at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts for 30 years, at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.
My boss Doug Reside, Curator of the Billy Rose Theatre Division, started off the afternoon at the Bruno Walter Auditorium by giving the audience an overview of his new book, “Fixing the Musical: How Technologies Shaped The Broadway Repertory” (Oxford University Press 2023), which argues that “the musicals we most remember are those which most effectively used their era’s best recording and distribution technologies to document and share the work with those who would never see the original production on Broadway.”
I was lucky enough to have hung out in the green room before the event started with Doug, moderator Ted Chapin (former President of the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization for over three decades), and Larry Maslon, all fascinating men with incredible knowledge of Broadway musicals.
Following Doug’s presentation, Mr. Maslon then spoke about one of his books as well, entitled “Broadway to Main Street: How Show Tunes Enchanted America” (Oxford University Press 2018). But before he began, he made note of several Broadway luminaries who left us this year (i.e. Sheldon Harnick, lyricist for “Fiddler on the Roof”), ending with a name that surprised most of us in the room – Tony Bennett. Doug and I exchanged a look across the room, as he knows that I worked with Tony for many years.
Mr. Maslon stressed to us that Tony was the one popular singer who consistently recorded songs from Broadway shows, always noting the composers and musicals in his live performances. As an example, he told the story about how Tony wanted to record a song from the 1962 musical “All American” called “Once Upon A Time” written by Charles Strouse and Lee Adams (the talented Mr. Strouse also wrote the perennial shows “Bye Bye Birdie” and “Annie”). The composers were thrilled and, when Tony added that he also had to record a B-side to the single, they agreed to let him add a heretofore unknown song… which just happened to be “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” now considered Tony’s signature song. When Mr. Maslon pulled out an old 45 that displayed this A-side and B-side, the crowd gasped, me included. Who knew he was in possession of such an astounding piece of history?!
The following lecture was fascinating and the crowd ate it up. While I may have been the youngest one in the auditorium, all of us were Broadway Cast Album aficionados in one way or another.
After the program ended, Larry Maslon accosted me in person with an exclamatory, “I didn’t know you worked for Tony Bennett!” Doug had obviously briefed him. We chatted about Tony’s brilliance and legacy, and then he made the most unexpected gesture – he handed me the old 45. “Here, take this,” he insisted. I was shocked and obviously demurred, of course; I couldn’t just take such a historic item. He then explained that he couldn’t think of a more fitting person in that room to gift the record to, and I had to agree. My eyes stung with tears and we hugged.
Yet one more reason why I feel I’m meant to work here at the Library for the Performing Arts. This theater nerd and lover of all things musical-related has been given another gift, besides this job, and one that involves one of my greatest musical heroes, Mr. Tony Bennett.
Once Upon A Time, indeed.