The Arty Semite

Guys & Dolls & Bagels & Animals: American Jewish Composer Frank Loesser at 100

By Benjamin Ivry

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Some Jewish Broadway tunesmiths were gifted with longevity, like Irving Berlin, the Methuselah of Tin Pan Alley, who was still around to celebrate his centenary in 1988. By contrast, the much-beloved Frank Loesser — who would have turned 100 on June 29 — died over 40 years ago at the premature age of only 59.

Still, Loesser’s work lives on, and survives even longstanding grievous attempts by tone-deaf Hollywood actors to perform his songs. On March 19, Opera Omaha will give Nebraskans the chance to sing along with the film “Guys and Dolls,” while later April 16 and 18 programs offer a Cornhusker State tribute to Loesser by television soap opera actor and singer Ron Raines. On May 3, The Kennedy Center in Washington, D. C., will host two other gala centenary events: a new stage work based on Loesser’s unpublished songs about animals, and a separate interview-performance program featuring Loesser’s widow, Jo Sullivan Loesser. Most significantly, a revival of Loesser’s hit musical “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” will run at Connecticut’s Goodspeed Opera House from September 24 to November 28. More than grab-bags of songs or ill-advised celebrity attempts to sing, to hear Loesser’s music and words in the dramatic context for which they were originally intended is an undiluted joy.

Watch Metropolitan Klezmer play the Loesser-inspired “Guys & Dolls & Bagels” at the East Village lounge DROM, here.


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