Some of the biggest stars of stage, screen, and music came out last week to remember composer Marvin Hamlisch at a memorial tribute at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater at the Juilliard School at Lincoln Center in New York City. Hamlisch, who died last month at age 68, was a musical child prodigy who was accepted into Juilliard at the age of six. A scholarship program has been established in his name.
Among those who showed up at the September 18 event were Barbra Streisand, Liza Minnelli, Regis and Joy Philbin, Robert Klein, Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, Sarah Jessica Parker, Joe Torre, Neil Simon, and Joel Grey.
Streisand, who was friends with Hamslich for nearly 50 years, performed heartfelt versions of “The Way We Were” and “Through the Eyes of Love” from Ice Castles. Minnelli, accompanied by Michael Feinstein, performed an updated version of “If You Really Knew Me” from They’re Playing Our Song. Feinstein will succeed Hamlisch as lead conductor of the Pasadena Pops, which held a free tribute concert for Hamlisch on Saturday, September 22nd on the steps of Pasadena’s City Hall conducted by Larry Blank and hosted by actor Jason Alexander.
Other performers at the Lincoln Center memorial included violinist Itzhak Perlman, trumpeter Chris Botti, and cellist Carter Brey. Aretha Franklin sang a soulful version of Hamlisch’s “Nobody Does It Better” from the James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me. There were also performances from Hamlisch’s last two musicals, The Sweet Smell of Success and The Nutty Professor, which is scheduled to come to Broadway next year.
“It was just one of those nights,” said actor and singer Richard Jay-Alexander. “You had to be there … because whether it was the stars who were performing, or the fresh young faces from the upcoming musical The Nutty Professor … you could just feel the love and admiration in the room…. and, of course, the loss. Mike Nichols put together a beautiful evening and everyone on both sides of the footlights were happy to be there and remember Marvin Hamlisch, ‘a singular sensation.’”
Actress Susan Lucci said she wouldn’t have missed the memorial for the world “because Marvin was a personal friend, as well as a national treasure, and a genius, and a warm and generous, funny, wonderful man.”
Hamlisch won three Oscars, a Tony Award, four Emmys, four Grammys, and two Golden Globe Awards, making him one of the most honored musicians of all time. His death on August 6th sent shockwaves through the entertainment industry. Initial reports were that he died following a brief illness but according to gossip site TMZ, who obtained a copy of Hamlisch’s death certificate, Hamlisch died primarily from “respiratory arrest (lung failure) … caused by a combination of anoxic brain encephalopathy (failure of oxygen to reach the brain) and hypertension (high blood pressure).”
At 8:00 PM on August 8, the marquee lights of the 40 Broadway theaters were dimmed for one minute in tribute to Hamlisch, a posthumous honor traditionally accorded to those considered to have made significant contributions to the theater.
Another tribute for Hamlisch is set for the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey on October 7th. The event is expected to feature alumni performers from A Chorus Line, the landmark 1975 musical that Hamlisch wrote the score for, including original Broadway cast members Kelly Bishop and Donna McKechnie.
Hamlisch, a native New Yorker, is survived by his wife of 23 years, Terre.