Marvin Hamlisch just wanted to be a successful Broadway composer one day, but he received that and much more.
He’s also written and composed music scores for 40 different films, including “Sophie’s Choice,” “Ice Castles,” “Ordinary People” and “The Informant,” starring Matt Damon and directed by Steven Soderbergh. Hamlisch also conducted a number of symphonies and served as musical director for Barbra Streisand’s 1994 concert.
Hamlisch has won three Oscars, four Grammys, four Emmys, a Tony and three Golden Globe awards. And he never thought he’d receive any of it.
“My life happened to turn into a series of opportunistic moments, where one thing led to another,” he said during a phone call with Surprise Today. “I went from Broadway to Hollywood, and I’m very grateful all that has happened in my life.”
Those moments are the basis of a show Hamlisch will perform Dec. 4 in a special benefit for the Del E. Webb Performing Arts Center in Wickenburg. Some of the proceeds benefit the facility that brings national acts to the town.
The show features Hamlisch and Broadway tenor J. Mark McVey, who stars as Jean Valjean in the “Les Miserables” national tour. During the concert, the composer will perform standards as well as some of his own music.
He’ll also make up a song or two on the spot after an audience member gives him a title.
“I actually do that very quickly,” he said. “The whole evening reminds me of what I do around my piano at home. And in all honesty, I tell my story throughout the show, too.”
His first Broadway job was as a rehearsal pianist for the musical “Funny Girl” with Streisand.
“I worked with a friend of mine, Liza (Minnelli), who introduced me to the composer and he was looking for an assistant,” he said.
But it wasn’t until he wrote the score for the hit musical “A Chorus Line” that he struck gold.
“It was the first show I had written, and that cemented everything for me,” he said. “I don’t think anyone had an idea it would be a big phenomenon.”
And he didn’t think about the awards or recognition that followed but about composing a great musical.
“Whether it’s good or bad, it’s up to the public to decide if it’s popular or not,” he said. “I was writing a show that I thought was good.”
“A Chorus Line” revolves around a 17 dancers auditioning for eight coveted spots in a chorus of a Broadway show. Hamlisch penned such popular songs as “What I Did for Love” and “One” for the musical that received Tony awards and the Pulitzer Prize.
“People loved that show so much because they saw themselves in those characters,” he said. “They loved the idea of needing a job and doing something you love whether you’re a dancer or not.”
Now that he has a successful career, Hamlisch said the landscape of Broadway has changed with more musicals now based on movies and quite a few revivals.
“It’s all about the dollars and cents, because many producers don’t want to take too many chances if you’re spending $15 million,” he said. “There are hardly any original shows anymore, but hopefully that will change again one day.”