Who's Who in Musicals: Bo-Bu
by John Kenrick
b. Nov. 23, 1928 (New Haven, CT) - Nov. 3, 1010 (Westchester, NY)
After working in television for several years, Bock teamed with lyricist Larry Holofcener to
contribute songs to the Broadway revue Catch a Star (1955). George Weiss assisted them
with the score for Mr. Wonderful (1956), and Bock and Holofcener ended their
partnership with an unsuccessful Shubert-produced edition of the Ziegfeld Follies
(1956). Bock then collaborated with lyricist Sheldon Harnick on the
boxing musical The Body Body Beautiful (1958). Although unsuccessful, it was the
beginning of a long and productive partnership. Their next show was Fiorello
(1959), a Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical biography of New York's beloved Mayor
LaGuardia. The score included the showstopping "Politics and Poker," the
ravishing ballad "When Did I Fall In Love?," and the comic lament "I
Love a Cop."
Bock & Harnick specialized in bringing historic characters & settings
to life. Their Tenderloin (1960) looked at political corruption 1890s Manhattan, including the
comic ballad "Artificial Flowers." The charming She Loves Me (1963),
based on the play The Shop Around the Corner, was set in 1930s Budapest.
Its score included "Ice Cream" and "Will He Like Me?"
for Barbara Cook, as well as
the hilarious ensemble number "Twelve Days to Christmas." Bock & Harnick
followed this with Fiddler on the Roof
(1964). With book by Joseph Stein, it was one
of the finest musicals in theatrical history. Based on Sholom Alechem's Tevye
stories, this story of Jewish life in Tsarist Russia won the Tony for Best Musical and
became the longest running Broadway musical up to its time. "Tradition,"
"Matchmaker, Matchmaker," "If I Were a Rich Man" and "Sunrise,
Sunset" were translated into more than a dozen languages as the show was produced
all around the world.
Bock and Harnick contributed several songs to Baker Street (1965) before
composing The Apple Tree (1966), an unusual trio of allegorical one-act musicals.
After writing two songs for the ill-fated Her First Roman (1968), they ended their
collaboration with The Rothschilds (1970), a moving look at the birth of the
European banking dynasty. In the years that followed, Bock worked on various projects that
did not reach Broadway, including a musical adaptation of It's A Wonderful Life
written with lyricist Joe Raposo. Just ten days after speaking at the funeral of
Stein, Bock died of heart failure at age 81.
Actor, dancer, singer
b. Jan. 10, 1904 (Boston, Mass.) – d. Jan. 15, 1987 (Los Angeles, CA)
After getting his start in touring companies and vaudeville, this slender, eccentric
dancer appeared in several Broadway revues, including George White’s Scandals
and Life Begins at 8:40. His first starring role was Junior Dolan in
Richard Rodgers &
Lorenz Hart’s On Your Toes (1936),
where George Balanchine showcased Bolger in
the "Slaughter on 10th Avenue" Ballet. MGM brought Bolger out
to Hollywood, where he played supporting roles in such films as
The Great Ziegfeld (1936) and Sweethearts (1938). He made his most
memorable screen appearance as The Scarecrow in
The Wizard of Oz (1939) singing
"If I Only Had a Brain." Bolger’s rubber-legged dance style was
also effectively showcased in Stage Door Canteen (1943), where he performed a
Rodgers & Hart specialty entitled "The Girl I Love to Leave Behind."
Bolger returned to Broadway to star in Rodgers & Hart’s final hit, By Jupiter
(1942). As Sapiens, the rebellious husband of an Amazon warrior, he introduced
the hilarious "Now That I've Got My Strength" and shared "Ev'rything
I've Got" with Benay Venuta. Bolger introduced
the show-stopping "That Old Soft Shoe" in the revue Three to Make Ready
(1946). He had his biggest stage success in Frank Loesser’s
Where’s Charley (1948), which became a smash hit after Bolger started coaxing
audiences into singing along during "Once In Love With Amy." He stole the
film Look for the Silver Lining (1949) with his rendition of "Who,"
and starred in a rarely seen British screen version of Where's Charley (1952). He introduced
the touching ballad "Once Upon a Time" in Broadway’s ill-fated All American
(1962), playing a Russian professor who winds up coaching football at an American
university. Bolger's last stage musical was the short-lived Come Summer (1964), where he
played a traveling salesman. He continued to make concert and TV appearances in
his final years, and was one of the narrators of MGM's That’s Entertainment (1974).
b. Nov. 23, 1884 (Broxbourne, UK) – d. Sept. 6, 1979 (London, UK)
Originally an architect who wrote songs in in his spare time, Bolton teamed
with fellow lyricist P.G. Wodehouse and composer
Jerome Kern to create a series of musicals for Broadway’s
most intimate house. The Princess Theatre shows
included Oh Boy (1917), Leave It to Jane (1917) and
Oh, Lady! Lady! (1918) -- neatly integrated book musicals that placed believable
American characters in common situations. While some sources overstate the historic importance of
these shows, the series established its creators as leading theatrical
writers. Over the next few years, Bolton worked with Kern and assorted co-lyricists on more
than a dozen other shows, including Very Good Eddie (1915),
Marilyn Miller's smash-hit Sally (1920) and
the charming but short-lived Sitting Pretty (1924).
As a recognized master of lighthearted musical comedy librettos, Bolton
collaborated with George and
Ira Gershwin on Lady Be Good (1924),
Oh Kay (1928) and Girl Crazy (1930). During the same period, Bolton wrote
the books for dozens of London and New York shows, many with co-librettist
Fred Thompson. He co-authored Anything Goes
(1934) with Wodehouse before handing the project over to newcomers
Howard Lindsay and
Russell Crouse for completion. Bolton scored with wartime musical comedies
like Follow the Girls (1944), but he was unable to adjust in the post-Oklahoma
era. After a decade on the sidelines, he tried the old “bring on the girls” formula once
more in the unsuccessful Ankles Aweigh (1955). He single-handedly revised Anything Goes for
a hit Off-Broadway revival in 1962. After the failure
of Anya (1965), Bolton returned to England and bought a home near that
of Wodehouse, and the old collaborators remained close until Bolton's death at
b. Mar. 5, 1941 (Tunis)
Inspired by the success of Lloyd Webber & Rice's Jesus Christ Superstar, Boublil
and composer Claude-Michel Schonberg
collaborated on a rock opera, La Revolution Francaise (1973). Like Superstar,
a studio recording led to a well-received stage production. They
repeated this pattern with Abbacadabra (1983), a children's musical using
songs by the rock group Abba. With a clear preference for epic, romantic tales,
Boublil and Schonberg created a musical adaptation of Victor Hugo's novel
Les Miserables. It
also began as a recording, had a Paris staging in 1980, and was translated into English
for a 1985 London production that ran into the 2010's. The Broadway version received
the Tony for Best Musical in 1987, and ran into the early 2000's. Affectionately known
as Les Miz, it has been produced worldwide, and remains an audience favorite.
Schonberg and Boublil next reset the tragedy of Madame Butterfly in the
maelstrom of the Vietnam War, and entitled it Miss Saigon. Written in
English (in collaboration with Richard Maltby),
it premiered in London in 1989 and reached Broadway in 1991, enjoying long runs in both
cities. Like Les Miz, it has toured the world with tremendous success.
Schonberg and Boublil's Martin Guerre has had several productions but
never reached New York, and their The Pirate Queen had a two week Broadway
run in 2007.
b. Feb. 10, 1898 (Augsburg, Germany) – d. Aug. 14, 1956 (Berlin, Germany)
Brecht got his start as a lyricist, performing his own songs in
German cabarets. While writing many outstanding plays (Good Woman of Setzuan,
Mother Courage, etc.), he also created several innovative musical theatre
pieces with composer Kurt Weill.
These works were built around Brecht's belief that one had to
thoroughly entertain an audience before enlightening it. Brecht and Weill's
gangster-land musical Happy End (1929) and full-fledged opera The Rise and
Fall of the City of Mahagonny (1929) premiered in Germany to mixed receptions.
Their second opera, Das Jasager (1930), did poorly.
Brecht & Weill's
The Threepenny Opera, with its tale of the murderous thief Macheath thriving
in a corrupt society, became an international sensation. Premiering in Berlin
in 1928, it was acclaimed all across Europe before receiving unsuccessful productions
in London and New York in the 1930’s. The score included "The Ballad of Mack the
Knife," which described a series of gory crimes set to an infectious melody. Brecht
emigrated to the United States in 1941 to escape Nazi persecution. A longtime
communist sympathizer, he resettled in East Berlin six years later, where he
openly supported the pro-Soviet government. In his final years,
he saw a rising interest in his works, including a record-setting Off-Broadway production
of Threepenny Opera in 1954. Brecht died of a heart attack at age 58. Decades after his passing, Happy End won
acclaim on Broadway, Mahagonny received successful productions by the
NY Metropolitan and English National Opera companies, and Threepenny Opera
continues to be revived.
b. Feb. 17, 1877 (St. John's, Newfoundland) - d. Dec 22, 1948 (Great Neck, NY)
This handsome tenor was working in a Boston machine shop when began performing with a vocal
quartette at age 16. Brian soon joined a theatrical troupe and toured extensively
before trying his luck in New York, where he eventually won major roles in more than 20
Broadway musicals. He got his start in several
replacement casts, including leading roles in On the Wabash (1899) and the
long-running Florodora (1902). Featured in
George M. Cohan's
Little Johnny Jones (1904) and 45 Minutes From Broadway (1906), he
is best remembered for portraying Prince Danilo in the first Broadway production
of Franz Lehar's international hit
The Merry Widow (1907). Waltzing with co-star
Ethel Jackson, Brian's black wavy hair and warm
brown eyes helped make him one of New York's most
popular matinee idols, a classification that he supposedly loathed.
After starring in The Dollar Princess (1909), Brian co-starred with soprano
Julia Sanderson in
The Siren (1911). Their chemistry was so popular that they were re-teamed for
The Girl From Utah (1914), introducing Jerome Kern's
landmark hit song "They Didn't Believe Me." Sanderson and Brian ended their
string of hits with Sybil (1916), a now-forgotten musical that delighted
audiences of that time. Brian starred in a revival of The Chocolate Soldier
(1921), Up She Goes (1922) and the national tour of No, No, Nanette (1926).
After joining the cast of Kern's Music in the Air (1933), Brian
made his final musical stage appearance in Kern's last Broadway musical,
Very Warm For May (1939). Much loved by his fellow performers, he served
for many years as president of the Catholic Actor's Guild.
(b. Fania Borach)
b. Oct. 29, 1891 (New York City) - d. May 29, 1951 (Hollywood, CA)
The quintessential "Ziegfeld star" was not a long-legged showgirl, but
a gifted vocalist and comedienne. Beginning in burlesque, Brice built a reputation
for dialect comedy (performing with a trademark Yiddish accent), show business parody and
outrageous physical clowning. She could also sing tragic love songs to heartbreaking
effect. After making her first appearance in Florenz Ziegfeld's
Follies in 1910, she was featured in nine more editions, as well as several
editions of Ziegfeld's Midnight Frolic revue. Brice introduced numerous songs
in these productions, included "My Man, "Second Hand Rose" and
"Rose of Washington Square." After her rocky marriage to petty
criminal Nick Arnstein, she had an ultimately unhappy marriage with producer-songwriter
Brice starred in several disappointing early talking films. The best surviving
visual record of her work is Be Yourself (1930), which preserves several of
her classic routines, including cavorting as a "Swan Lake" ballerina. Her later years were
spent playing the outrageous Baby Snooks (a character she first created in a
Follies sketch) on NBC Radio. She died of a cerebral hemorrhage at age
Fanny's life story has inspired several musicals, including the thinly disguised film Rose of Washington Square (1939),
the stage and screen hit Funny Girl (NY 1964 - filmed 1968), and the sequel film
Funny Lady (1975). There have been several fine biographies of Brice, but we recommend
Herbert G. Goldman's Fanny Brice: The Original Funny Girl (New York: Oxford University
Press, 1992). For more on the real facts in Brice's life story, you can also see
our special feature Funny Girl Debunked.
Lyricist, librettist, composer
b. Jan. 29, 1931 (London, UK)
Bricusse's versatile gift for melody and catchy lyrics kept his works popular through
the last four decades of the 20th Century. He composed his first musical in college,
and worked for several years as a screenwriter before seeing some of his songs become
British pop hits in the late 1950s. While appearing in a revue with
Bea Lillie, he collaborated with singer-songwriter
Anthony Newley on the innovative musical Stop the World
I Want to Get Off (1961). In an unusual arrangement, both men contributed
words and music, telling the story of "Littlechap" (played by Newley), a common man up
against the world. With the hit songs "What Kind of Fools Am I" and
"Once in a Lifetime," the show enjoyed profitable runs in London and New
York. Bricusse collaborated with Cyril Ornadel on the London hit
Pickwick (1963) -- which included "If I Ruled the World" --
before reuniting with Newley to compose the score for
The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd (1965), another
"little man against the world" tale that reached Broadway co-starring
Newley and Cyril Ritchard. That score included "On a Wonderful Day
Bricusse and Newley composed the title tunes for several James Bond films, and the
complete score for the screen musical Doctor Doolittle (1967) including
the Academy Award winning song "If I Could Talk to the Animals." Their film score for
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) included "The Candy Man,"
which became a pop hit for Sammy Davis, Jr. After composing a poorly received TV version
of Peter Pan (1971), Bricusse and Newley collaborated on the London musical
The Good Old Bad Old Days (1972), pitting (what else?) a "little man"
against the powers of heaven and hell. On his own, Bricusse wrote the score
for a screen musical version of Goodbye Mr. Chips (1969), which he adapted
for a British stage production in 1982.
Bricusse composed an outstanding score for the screen musical Scrooge (1970),
which he later turned into a British stage vehicle for longtime friend Newley. His
Sherlock Holmes (1989) failed in London, despite a promising score. Bricusse
shared a well-deserved Academy Award with composer Henry Mancini for the
score to Victor/Victoria (1982). He also contributed the book and lyrics for
Frank Wildhorn’s long-running Broadway version of
Jekyll & Hyde (1997). Constipated critics treated his work harshly, but audiences never stopped applauding. He has worked
on commercially successful stage adaptations of his existing screen hits, bringing
Victor/Victoria to Broadway and Doctor Doolittle to the West End.
(b. Taidje Khano, later Youl Bryner)
b. July 11, 1911 or 1915 (Sakhalin, Russia) - d. Oct. 10, 1985 (New York City)
(Please note that due to sketchy documentation, our knowledge of Brynner's early years relies
heavily on his sometimes outlandish personal claims.) One of the most colorful personalities
in 20th Century show business, Brynner was the son of a Mongolian father and a Romany Gypsy
mother. Raised in Beijing and Paris, he ran away from his family to become an acrobat, folk
singer and repertory actor -- and somehow found time to earn a degree from the Sorbonne.
(See what I mean?)
After touring the United States in Michael Checkov's theatre company, Brynner made his
Broadway musical debut opposite Mary Martin as
"Tsai-Yong" in Lute Song (1946), and repeated the role two years later in London.
Six feet tall and weighing 175 pounds, his exotic, muscular good looks and sonorous
voice made him a distinctive stage presence. Martin urged
Richard Rodgers and
Oscar Hammerstein II
to audition Brynner for an exotic new project.
Strumming a guitar and singing a Russian folk song, he won the role of "King
Mongkut," the Siamese monarch who tries to modernize himself and his nation in
The King and I (1951). His charismatic performance opposite co-star
Gertrude Lawrence proved to be the defining
event of Brynner's career. After winning a Tony for Best Featured Actor in a Musical,
he repeated the role on tour and in the
1956 film version, for which he earned the Oscar for Best Actor. In so doing,
Brynner became the first person to win both a Tony and an Oscar for the same musical role --
to date only Rex Harrison and
Joel Grey have repeated this double honor.
Also in 1956, Brynner established himself as a top-rank dramatic star in the
hit films Anastasia and The Ten Commandments. After concentrating on screen
roles for the next two decades, Brynner returned to the stage. He toured in the musical
Odysseus for over a year, before it was re-titled Home Sweet Homer (1975)
for its one-night Broadway run. Undaunted, he soon re-conquered Broadway in a triumphant
revival of The King and I (1977), and spent his remaining years touring
that show to packed houses in America and Britain. Brynner's demanding contract
(which is set a new standard for touring stars) required freshly painted dressing
rooms in every city and a detailed grocery list for his hotel room. Diagnosed with
terminal lung cancer in 1983, Brynner continued touring, ending with a final
Broadway bow in 1985. He had played the King more than 4,000 times. After Brynner's
death later that year, the American Lung Association ran a series of powerful TV ads
in which Brynner pleaded with smokers to break the habit that had killed him.
Actor, singer, dancer, producer, director
b. April 2, 1891 (Helensburgh, Scotland) - d. Oct. 20, 1957 (London, UK)
"The British Fred Astaire" got his start in Scottish music halls
before making a West End debut
in the chorus of Tonight's the Night (1915). He starred in producer
Andre Charlot's revue A to Z (1921),
where he introduced Ivor Novello's hit
song "And Her Mother Came Too." He made his Broadway debut with
Gertrude Lawrence and
Bea Lillie in Andre Charlot's Revue (1924),
returning to New York in another Charlot revue two years later. After appearing
in the London production of Jerome Kern's Sunny
(1926) with Binnie Hale, Buchanan co-starred in a series
of nine popular West End musical comedies with Elsie Randolph, including Wake Up
and Dream (1929), Mr. Wittington (1934) and It's Time to Dance
(1943). He took over the lead of King's Rhapsody in 1951. All told, Buchanan
appeared in more than twenty five London musicals and four Broadway productions.
Buchanan starred in two early Hollywood screen musicals Paris (1929) and
Monte Carlo (1930) but American producers felt that his somewhat reedy singing
voice was too nasal for the screen. He proved this was nonsense
with his popular performances in more than a dozen British screen comedies,
including Brewster's Millions (1935). He is best remembered for his
brilliant performance as the egotistical director Jeff Cordova in MGM's classic
The Bandwagon (1953). To understand
the appeal of Buchanan's elegant, nonchalant style, one need
only see him perform "I Guess I'll Have To Change My Plan" with
Fred Astaire -- two masters of high style at their best.
Buchanan made his final stage appearance
co-starring with Dorothy Dickson in the London
comedy As Long As They're Happy (1953), and appeared in several British screen
comedies until spinal arthritis brought his career to a halt in 1955. He died
two years later at age 66.
(b. Edward Eugene Buck)
Lyricist, librettist, director
b. Aug. 8, 1885 (Detroit, Michigan) - d. Feb. 25, 1957 (Great Neck, NY)
This art school graduate was designing sheet music covers when he was somehow selected
to write special material for producer Florenz Ziegfeld's
longtime mistress Lillian Lorraine.
Efficient and cool-headed, Buck quickly became Ziegfeld's right hand man, writing lyrics and
skits, and even directing several editions of the Follies. He worked on most editions
between 1911 and 1931, all the while contributing material to other Ziegfeld productions. He
provided lyrics for such tunesmiths as Jerome Kern
and Victor Herbert, but wrote most of his songs with
Ziegfeld's reliable but uninspired staff composer David Stamper. Buck's best remembered song
is "Hello Frisco," with music by Louis Hirsch. Admired by his peers, Buck was a
co-founder of the American Society of Composers and Publishers (ASCAP), and served as the
group's president from 1924 to 1941.
Buckley, Betty Lynn
b. July 3, 1947 (Big Springs, TX)
Buckley went straight from regional theater
to her Broadway debut, creating the role of Martha Jefferson in 1776 (1969). Her
ringing rendition of "He Plays the Violin" made her an instant favorite. Before
the year was out, she starred in the London production of Promises, Promises.
During the 1970s, she appeared in several replacement casts, and was featured in several
films -- most notably, playing a teacher in the 1976 horror classic Carrie. For
several seasons, she played a mother on the popular TV series Eight is Enough.
Buckley returned to the stage as the bedraggled feline Grizabella in the Broadway
production of Cats (1983), winning a Tony with her moving rendition of
Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Memory."
Buckley donned male drag to play the title role in The Mystery of Edwin Drood
(1985). She played the title character's mother in the disastrous Broadway musical
version of Carrie (1988), and won rave reviews when she took over the role of Norma
Desmond in both the London and New York productions of Lloyd Webber's Sunset Boulevard
in the mid-1990s. She played the royal tutor Hesione in the ill-fated Triumph of Love
(1997), and starred as Mama Rose in an acclaimed Paper Mill Playhouse revival of Gypsy
the following year. Buckley has made numerous concert appearances on both sides of the
Atlantic, and her clarion voice can be heard on several solo recordings.
Librettist, playwright, director
b. Dec. 18, 1910 (NYC) - d. May 17, 1985 (NYC)
After many years as a top comedy writer for network radio, Burrows made his
Broadway debut penning the libretto for Guys and Dolls
(1950), one of the finest musical comedy scripts ever written (with an equally
glorious score by Frank Loesser).
Overnight, Burrows became one of the most sought after librettists on Broadway.
His somewhat less impressive efforts in Make A Wish (1951) and Three
Wishes For Jamie (1952) were followed by the success of Cole Porter's
Can Can (1953) -- which Burrows also directed --
and Silk Stockings (1955). As a director, he successfully helmed the
delightful revue Two On the Aisle (1951) and the middling Ethel
Merman vehicle Happy Hunting (1956).
As both writer and director, Burrows was
unable to breathe much life into the backstage spoof Say Darling
(1958) or a musical version of Pride and Prejudice entitled First
Impressions (1959). But he had no
trouble writing and directing the Pulitzer Prize winning hit How to Succeed
in Business Without Really Trying (1961), his second and final
collaboration with Loesser. Burrows directed the so-so What Makes Sammy
Run? (1964), and was one of many who tried to save the
ill-fated musical version of Breakfast at Tiffany's (1966) -- which closed
in previews. He revised the libretto for and directed the revival of Good
News (1974), which toured for a year before a disappointing Broadway run.
Burrows was a popular "show doctor," called into unofficially assist troubled
productions -- we will never know exactly how many musicals owed their best
laughs to him. His final directorial efforts were a clumsy touring update of
Hellzapoppin (1976), and a poorly received Broadway revival of Can
Can (1981). His son James Burrows is the director/writer for such long running
sitcoms as Taxi, Night Court, Cheers, Frasier, Friends and
Will & Grace. For more, see the breezy autobiography Honest Abe: Is
There Really No Business Like Show Business? (Boston: Little Brown & Co., 1980).
Back to: Who's Who In Musicals