THE 2021 DEEPER-DIVE SERIES:
A CLOSER LOOK AT ‘THEY'RE PLAYING OUR SONG’
Carol Bayer Sager and Marvin Hamlisch in 1977
Art imitates life in this darkly romantic look at two songwriting greats
- What: 'They're Playing Our Song'
- Written by: Marvin Hamlisch (music), Carole Bayer Sager (lyrics) and Neil Simon (book)
- Genre: Time-capsule chamber musical
- Year written: 1978
- Broadway debut: 1979
- Director: Rod Lansberry
- Dates: May 28-June 27, 2021
- Where: Arvada Center Mainstage Theatre
- The story at a glance: Bayer Sager’s calamitous relationship with one of the world’s most famous composers is the basis of this long-running hit musical, which ran for three years on Broadway. Their character names here are Vernon Gersch and Sonia Walsk, an established composer and an offbeat aspiring lyricist who start a romantic relationship and move in together before their harmony soon turns to discord. Their darkly funny romance is very specific to its time, playing out amid a period of great upheaval and social change in America. Each character is also afforded an inner voice.
- Quotable: "What does he hear in his head that the rest of us don't?" – Sonia asks of Vernon.
- About the writers: Hamlisch is one of only 15 people ever to win Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony Awards. Simon wrote more than 30 plays and has received more combined Oscar and Tony Award nominations than any other writer. Bayer-Sager has written more than 750 songs, including "A Groovy Kind of Love," "Nobody Does It Better" (from “The Spy Who Loved Me”), "Arthur's Theme,” "That's What Friends Are For," Don't Cry Out Loud" and "Midnight Blue."
'I think it will be a nice relief to be able to laugh and enjoy these great songs and get drawn into these characters.' – Rod Lansberry
- Says Rod Lansberry: "This is such a unique piece in that it brings together a true triple-threat in pop-music history. This is a very Neil Simon-like story in that it is wonderfully funny, but you really come to know the two main characters through their relationship problems. I think audiences are really going to love this production because right now they are faced with so many unknowns with the shutdown. We are giving them something they are familiar with and can connect to, and I think it will be a nice relief for them to be able to laugh and enjoy these great songs and get drawn into these characters.”
- What critics have said: “This musical is fun and it is funny, full of blithe good humor, hilarious jokes and witty, pointed characterizations. Neil Simon, at his most sprightly and acidly comic, has gotten himself another ‘Odd Couple.’ ” – The New York Post
- Fun facts: The quirky character of Sonia only wears outfits from theatrical plays ranging from “The Cherry Orchard” to “Pippin.” … The original Broadway production starred Robert Klein and Lucie Arnaz, who played Berthe in the 2015 national-touring production of 'Pippin' that launched in Denver. ... “They’re Playing Our Song” has not been performed by a Denver metro theatre company since a 2004 staging at the Country Dinner Playhouse (pictured at right) starring future Tony Award nominee Beth Malone (who played The Narrator in several Arvada Center productions of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”) and Mark Devine (“Mamma Mia”). Malone returns to the Arvada Center for two outdoor concerts on September 4.
- They said it: Idina Menzel, on appearing at Red Rocks with Hamlisch conducting the Colorado Symphony Orchestra in 2011: "He's a legend, and my new best buddy. Sitting down with him and having a glass of wine after the show is a little surreal for me, just knowing that he wrote 'A Chorus Line' and 'The Way We Were.' Songs he wrote that I worked on with my voice teacher when I was 8. He's so cool and down to earth. We get a little bit like the Catskills out there – two Jews shooting it back and forth." ... Arnaz, in Denver with the national touring production of 'Pippin' in 2015, on knowing Hamlisch (who died in 2012) and playing Sonia in "They're Playing Our Song": "Marvin had a humongous impact on my life. First of all, he was a personal friend. He was such a mentor. He helped me understand my voice. He helped me understand how to put a nightclub act together. Class act, all the way. I knew him from before "They're Playing Our Song," but that show was just huge in my life. For the last seven or eight years of our lives together, Robert Klein and Marvin and I would go out and do symphony concerts, and we had the best time together. He was just the most generous, funniest man. He’s left a huge, gaping hole in my life."
For info on subscriptions or single tickets, call 720-898-7200 or go to arvadacenter.org/subscribe
Compiled by John Moore, Senior Arts Journalist
Video bonus: 'They're Playing Our Song' at the 1979 Tony Awards
Henry Fonda introduces Robert Klein and Lucie Arnaz
Video bonus: Marvin Hamlisch at Red Rocks
Here's a snippet of Marvin Hamlisch conducting the Colorado Symphony Orchestra at Red Rocks and introducing the woman he calls "My Fair Lady," Idina Menzel, in July 2011. Video by John Moore.