14 June 1929
New York, New York, United States
18 November 2004 (aged 75)
He was born Seymour Kaufman on June 14, 1929, in New York City to Eastern European Jewish parents, and was raised in the Bronx. His mother, Ida (née Prizent) was an apartment landlady and his father was a brickmason. He was a child prodigy who gave piano recitals at Steinway Hall, Town Hall, and Carnegie Hall between the ages of six and nine. Before beginning his fabled Broadway career, he led the Cy Coleman Trio, which made many recordings and was a much-in-demand club attraction.
Despite the early classical and jazz success, he decided to build a career in popular music. His first collaborator was Joseph Allen McCarthy (together they wrote a song called The Riviera), but his most successful early partnership, albeit a turbulent one, was with Carolyn Leigh. The pair wrote many pop hits, including Witchcraft and The Best Is Yet To Come.
One of his instrumentals, "Playboy's Theme," became the signature music of the regular TV shows and specials presented by Playboy, and remains synonymous with the magazine and its creator, Hugh Hefner.
Coleman's winning streak as a Broadway composer began when the team collaborated on Wildcat (1960), which marked the Broadway debut of comedienne Lucille Ball. The score included the hit tune "Hey Look Me Over". When Ball was unable to cope with the rigors of eight performances a week, she left the cast, and the show soon folded. Up next for the two was Little Me, with a book by Neil Simon based on the novel by Patrick Dennis (Auntie Mame). The show introduced Real Live Girl and I've Got Your Number, which became popular standards.
In 1964, Coleman met Dorothy Fields at a party, and when he asked if she would like to collaborate with him, she is reported to have answered, "Thank God somebody asked". Fields was revitalised by working with the much younger Coleman, and by the contemporary nature of their first project, which was to become Sweet Charity, again with a book by Simon, and starring Gwen Verdon, and introducing the songs If They Could See Me Now, I'm a Brass Band and Hey, Big Spender. The show was a major success and Coleman found working with Fields much easier than with Leigh. The partnership was to work on two more shows – an aborted project about Eleanor Roosevelt, and Seesaw which reached Broadway in 1973 after a troubled out-of-town tour. Despite mixed reviews, the show enjoyed a healthy run. The partnership was cut short by Fields' death in 1974.
Coleman remained prolific in the late 1970s. He collaborated on I Love My Wife (1977) with Michael Stewart, On The Twentieth Century (1978) with Betty Comden and Adolph Green, and Home Again, Home Again with Barbara Fried, although the latter never reached Broadway.
In 1980, Coleman served as producer and composer for the circus-themed Barnum, which introduced theatergoers to Jim Dale and Glenn Close. Later in the decade, he collaborated on Welcome to the Club (1988) with A.E. Hotchner, and City of Angels (1989) with David Zippel. In the latter, inspired by the hard-boiled detective film noir of the 1930s and '40s, he returned to his jazz roots, and the show was a huge critical and commercial success.
The 1990s brought more new Coleman musicals to Broadway: The Will Rogers Follies (1991), again with Comden and Green, The Life (1997), a gritty look at pimps, prostitutes, and assorted other lowlife in the big city, with Ira Gasman, and a revised production of Little Me. Coleman's film scores include Father Goose (the standard Pass Me By), The Art of Love, Garbo Talks, Power, and Family Business. In addition, he wrote Shirley MacLaine's memorable television specials, If My Friends Could See Me Now and Gypsy in My Soul.
Coleman has been the only composer to win consecutive Tony awards for Best Score at the same time that the corresponding musicals won for Best Musical: City of Angels and Will Rogers' Follies.
Coleman was on the ASCAP Board of Directors for many years and also served as their Vice Chairman Writer.
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