Lucie, Robert and Marvin: They’re Playing Our Song

Los Angeles Times: Marvin, did you feel like “They’re Playing Our Song” was going to click when you first saw Lucie and Robert in rehearsals?

Marvin Hamlisch: You know, they were wonderful together. I never can really tell you what something is going to be like. When you write something you have lost your objectivity right off the bat. I thought it was going to be very commercial and would do very well. I remember when we started working on it, I kept laughing and thinking it was really funny. The one thing I liked about “They’re Playing Our Song” is that we were just trying to do a really fun, nice evening with no pretentiousness.

Thirty-four years ago, a composer and two actors bonded over a show.    It’s been 34 years since actress Lucie Arnaz, comedian Robert Klein and composer Marvin Hamlisch came together to do “They’re Playing Our Song.” The lighthearted musical comedy opened in December 1978 at the Ahmanson Theatre and went to Broadway in February 1979, where it played for 1,082 performances. Penned by Neil Simon, the essentially two-character play revolved around the working and personal relationship between a neurotic, funny composer and a quirky lyricist. The musical play was inspired by the romantic relationship between Hamlisch and lyricist Carole Bayer Sager.

Lucie Arnaz, Robert Klein. Musical: They’re Playing Our Song

And all these years later they are still playing these songs. For several years, Arnaz, Klein and Hamlisch have been performing pop concerts around the country featuring Hamlisch conducting several of his songs, Klein doing stand-up and comedy songs, Arnaz performing songs from her nightclub act and then Klein and Arnaz reuniting for a mini-concert version of “They’re Playing Our Song.”

Marvin Hamlisch opened his second season (2012–2013) as principal pops conductor for the Pasadena Pops (and the orchestra’s inaugural season at the L.A. Arboretum ). The trio commented on this project:

Marvin, was it your idea to do these concerts together?

Marvin Hamlisch: It might have been my idea. I know that separately I wanted to get Lucie for a [concert] and all of a sudden the idea popped into my head that it would be fun to put them together. What is so amazing about it is that they are so good at it. It is just as if time stood still. Rehearsing with Robert Klein is like going to a comedy club. You are just laughing all the time.

Lucie Arnaz: The show still works for us. It is still meaningful. The relationship makes sense.

They’re Playing My Song– Tony Awards, 1979:

Robert Klein: We actually did a private concert for Neil Simon about four years ago. He had this wild idea to maybe revive and change some of the lines and modernize it. I think it’s a product of its time. It’s very popular in colleges and dinner theater. I can’t tell you how many times I hear, ‘I played your role at Brown University.’ But on Broadway … it is sort of disco-y. But I do remember how people loved it. I was nominated for a Tony. I didn’t win. I didn’t have a chance. There was “Sweeney Todd” that year.

Los Angeles Times: Lucie, you were best known for appearing with your mother, Lucille Ball, and your brother, Desi Arnaz Jr., on the sitcom “Here’s Lucy.” But you weren’t a well-known musical comedy figure. How did you get the part? Did you audition?

Lucie: Yeah. I was the first person, apparently, they saw. I remember when I finished auditioning, Neil came up and took my hands in his and kissed them and said, ‘You are such a breath of fresh air.’ I didn’t know what that meant. I just thanked him. I didn’t hear from anybody for a couple of months. They went and auditioned everybody else. I got a call they were doing a callback and Marvin wanted to hear me sing one more time. I was terrified, but Marvin came up to me just before the audition and said, “Don’t change anything; just sing again.”

Robert Klein: I read for them and sang for them at the Pantages. It was one of the great memorable days of my life. Truth be told, I think they had in mind John Rubinstein and they couldn’t get together [with him]. I read for them and that was it.

I saw the show twice at the Ahmanson and you both had an amazing chemistry together. Did you sense that the first time you met?

Lucie: Oh, God, yes. It was kind of that magical stuff, not just with Robert but the whole company. So much so that Neil Simon offered to sell me two points of the show that belonged to him — which he had never done before — to satisfy the discrepancy in what they were going to pay Robert and what they were going to pay me.

Los Angeles Times: There was a discrepancy because Robert was more established?

Lucie Arnaz: I was just starting out [on stage]. I was so happy [I bought] the points. I still get little checks in the mail.

Robert Klein: I met Lucie on West End Avenue. She was wearing a tie-dyed something, hippy print. We worked very well together and whatever little things were not smooth, were smoothed over. We always kept in touch and I think in many ways are better friends now. She used to fuss at me about this dance step or that dance step and gave me a note. I said [to her], “It’s my fifth Broadway show and your first!”

Marvin, did you feel like “They’re Playing Our Song” was going to click when you first saw Lucie and Robert in rehearsals?

M.H.: You know, they were wonderful together. I never can really tell you what something is going to be like. When you write something you have lost your objectivity right off the bat. I thought it was going to be very commercial and would do very well. I remember when we started working on it, I kept laughing and thinking it was really funny. The one thing I liked about “They’re Playing Our Song” is that we were just trying to do a really fun, nice evening with no pretentiousness. Source: Susan King, Los Angeles Times. June 2012


 

3 comments

  1. Mr. Hamlisch, I met you during the late 1970’s as a young high school student. You were purchasing a watch for your wife at Sax Fifth Avenue on Michigan Avenue in Chicago; I was just shopping with my mother. She told you about my piano and alto saxophone success and you were very cordial. I continued my music and love for theater throughout my life.
    Out Arts Council here in Taylorville, IL is a wonderful asset to our community and they have asked me to produce a musical and I chose your wonderful show “They’re Palying Our Song! We have a wonderful community here that would appreciate all you have done for the musical world greatly. Thank you Kathy F

  2. (8/7/12) Marvin Hamlisch will always be one singular sensation! Nobody does it better than Marvin and they’re playing his songs here and in Heaven. I had the great privilege hearing him play the piano, live in concert, and meeting him several times—-he was wonderfully kind & gracious. One of the most fun experiences I’ve ever had as an actor was playing Vernon in a production of “They’re Playing our Song” and having the grand opportunity to sing his marvelous songs. Thank you Marvin for the way you were: a supremely gifted & talented composer-pianist-conductor, and a brilliant, articulate, witty, most giving man. What he did for love was to provide the whole world with his beautiful & memorable melodies—- which will live on forever.

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