weeks ago, on a Monday night at the Rainbow Room, they
held the 2nd annual Johnny Mercer Award Gala and they
honored Cy Coleman, the
beloved Cy Coleman, composer and creative genius of such Broadway
musical scores as Sweet Charity, Little Me, City of Angels,
and The Will Rogers
Follies, Barnum Wildcat, I Love My Wife, Fosse, On the Twentieth
Century, The Life and John Murray Anderson’s Almanac (in
and Cy Coleman
The evening was organized by Margaret Whiting, president of the foundation,
and her husband writer/director Jack Wrangler.
Ms. Whiting, who had her first recording hits in the 1940s with
songs that became pop
standards such as “Moonlight In Vermont,” is the daughter
of composer Richard Whiting who wrote more than
50 hits in the first half of the 20th century including “Too Marvelous For Words,” “Ain’t
We Got Fun,” “She’s Funny That Way,” “On
the Good Ship Lollipop,” and “Hooray for Hollywood.”
I mention these facts because none of them were lost on Mr. Coleman
who loved his business and its community.
Upon arriving for cocktails, each guest was handed a pair of gold binoculars,
both to take in the sweeping vistas from the Cotillion room and also
to literally have a birdseye view of all the proceedings in the Rainbow
Room. And what proceedings they were.
The glittering crowd was a veritable who's who of great American music,
sharing a passion for the preservation of The Great American Songbook.
Among those toasting Cy and his lovely wife Shelby Coleman were Hal
David, Tony Danza, Marty and Edith Segal, David Zippel, Charles Strouse,
Jimmy Webb and Sheldon Harnick. ASCAP filled its tables
to overflow with such talents as Liz Callaway, Karen Mason,
Phyllis Newman and Andrea
Singer/songwriter Kathie Lee Gifford, currently starring in her original
musical Under the Bridge rang the dinner bell and Maggie
Whiting immediately set the tone for deep appreciation to Coleman
toast, "Here's to Us" from “Little Me.”
At each place setting was a CD of Cy Coleman’s greatest hits.
The entertainment went on throughout dinner. The evening kicked-off
with a rousing rendition of "Big Spender" by an extraordinary
vocal ensemble "The Accentuate-the-Positive Kids,” a dozen
elementary school students who have participated in the Mercer Foundation's
arts initiative, Accentuate-the-Positive. The fifth, sixth and seventh
graders shared original lyrics they had created in their workshops
sponsored by the foundation, and then they went into Coleman's anthem "It's
Not Where You Start".
Ademek, Ruth Appelhoff, and Frank Gifford
Gifford then performed a song from her new musical with her co-star
Ed Dixon. Brian Stokes Mitchell gave
the audience Coleman’s “Witchcraft” with
the classic arrangement Coleman did when he first performed it
himself. Glenn Close reprised her Tony award winning turn in Coleman's Broadway
Following dinner, Kathie Lee Gifford brought on Adam Guettel who performed
a tune from his Broadway bound original musical Light in the
The show, which opens in January at Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont
Theater, received early development and financial support from the
Foundation through its unique collaboration with The Sundance Theater
Broadway composer Charles Strouse took to the piano to perform a
tune from his upcoming Broadway musical, Marty. Next came the vivacious
and impassioned Chita Rivera who sang Coleman's, "Where Am I Going".
And then for dessert, Margaret Whiting introduced her long time Capitol
Records mate, Tony Bennett. Bennett not only paid
tribute to Coleman but also to Margaret Whiting and Johnny
Mercer. He told the enraptured
audience how Geoff Clarkson had once written a song
with Johnny Mercer some thirty years ago for the Dean Martin
Show. Published but never
recorded, the song lay unsung for years until Clarkson approached
Whiting five years ago. The indefatigable Whiting spent four
the song from its publishers to present it to Tony Bennett. This "new" Johnny
Mercer song is now on Bennett's just released CD. Bennett then
launched into brilliant recitative of his buddy Cy Coleman's
extraordinary accomplishments, that led critic Clive Barnes to
call Coleman "a permanent gem
in Broadway's crown."
Then the honoree Mr. Coleman took to his favorite spot — at
the piano singing his own songs.
Last September, Cy Coleman completed a two-week sold out
engagement at Feinstein’s at The Regency performing
— as he did 50+ years ago. The he went to L.A. where he
was honored by The Actors Fund.
After a round of parties and interviews, he came back to Manhattan
an award from the organization he cherished.
Four nights after the gala, on a Thursday, Cy Coleman attended
the opening night performance of Michael Frayn’s “Democracy.” Not
feeling well, he left the opening night party and went directly
to New York Hospital where he collapsed and died. He was seventy-five.
He was one of the best-liked individuals on Broadway, a pleasant
friendly personality who loved his business and loved his music
"It's a big loss," said Emanuel Azenberg, a longtime
friend and producer of a revival of Coleman's "Little Me." "He
was one of the last of the giants."