George Dansker will be holding his annual lecture tonight on a Jewish composer tonight following services at Touro Synagogue, 4238 St. Charles Avenue. This time, though, the subject is not nearly as well known as those for whom he has held previous tributes (Bernstein, Berlin, Weill, Rodgers, the Gershwins etc.).
Harold Rome, a composer and lyricist who was at one time a golden-haired boy of Broadway, will be the focus of Dansker’s lecture and his material will be given superstar treatment by soprano Sarah Jane McMahon.
The event, which includes a post-concert Oneg Shabbat begins shortly after 7:00 p.m.
In addition to Dansker and McMahon, pianist Jesse Reeks will be on hand to act as accompanist. Touro’s Cantor Kevin Margolius, a noted Broadway enthusiast, is singing three songs on the program, one of which will include Touro Senior Rabbi Katie Bauman.
In preparation for the event, the CCJN interviewed Dansker via email:
CCJN: What made you choose Harold Rome this year?
Dansker: He is not as well known as some of the other composers of the Classic Age of Broadway. I believe that his music is due for a rediscovery.
CCJN: Surprisingly, Rome was the composer behind 17 musicals, many of them very successful. Why do you think his work has not had the same kind of staying power as Irving Berlin, George and Ira Gershwin or Jule Styne?
Dansker: Rome’s music was on the Hit Parade quite frequently. I think the reason is that his shows are not often revived, or if they are it is very special circumstances (eg Encores). His music isn’t dated, nor are his musicals. I think it is just one of those things. Perhaps it was because although he wrote for great stars (Pinza, Gray, Henderson and others) he didn’t write for an Ethel Merman, or Mary Martin or Alfred Drake type star. Perhaps the shows aren’t revived as much as they are very unified not so much starring vehicles.
CCJN: Rome is credited with giving Barbra Streisand her first big break in his 1962 production of “I Can Get It For You Wholesale?”
Rome loved Streisand at the auditions for “Wholesale” and after she was hired, they kept making her part larger. They knew how good she was.
CCJN: Some people may not know that Harold Rome was directly responsible for Columbia Records signing Barbra Streisand to its label later in 1962. Rome insisted that she be allowed to take part in the 25th anniversary release of his show “Pins and Needles” on which she had four solos and was featured on two other tracks. Columbia Records president Goddard Lieberson took notice and signed her in the fall to an exclusive contract.
Dansker: “Pins and Needles” is actually Streisand’s first LP for Columbia after she had signed the contract. The original LP album is an amazing deluxe gate-fold with lots of photos and historical date.
CCJN: What are some of the rare gems you are bringing out?
We are programming a song he wrote for the 10th anniversary of Israel in 1958, and also a song that he wrote to be published in a pharmaceutical journal in 1952. These are some of the rare items we have. Also a selection from “Harold Rome’s Gallery” which was an LP devoted to his music with pictures of his excellent paintings which had inspired the music.
CCJN: Can you tell us more about their back stories?
One of the best backstories concerned “Boombah” which is the song he wrote to celebrate Israel. Rome was in Israel with the son of the famous Rabbi, Stephen Wise. Rome was to say how marvelously at home he felt there, and a few years later he was inspired to write the song.