Burt Shevelove

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A librettist, lyricist and director who emerged on Broadway in the late 1940s.
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b. Burton George Shevelove, 19 September 1915, Newark, New Jersey, USA, d. 8 April 1982, London, England. A librettist, lyricist, and director, Shevelove made his first impression on Broadway in 1948, directing the stylish revue, Small Wonder. He also wrote sketch material and lyrics (under the nom de plume Billings Brown) for the show, whose cast included future stars, Tom Ewell, Jack Cassidy, Alice Pearce, and Joan Diener. For more than two decades thereafter he worked in the rapidly growing medium of television, producing, writing, and directing hundreds of top-rated shows, starring Art Carney (‘Meets Peter And The Wolf’), Judy Garland, Richard Rodgers, Red Buttons, Frank Sinatra, Jack Benny, and numerous others. During this period he returned to the theatre occasionally, sometimes in collaboration with composer Albert Selden, with whom he had worked on Small Wonder. However, nothing of any significance came along until 1962, when A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, the musical he co-authored with Larry Gelbart, opened on Broadway. Both men won Tony Awards, and the show ran for 964 performances in New York, and 762 in London. Shevelove directed the 1972 Broadway revival. In 1965 he took over as director of Lionel Bart’s Twang!! from Joan Littlewood, prior to its transfer from Manchester to the West End, where it lasted just 43 performances. In the following year, Shevelove and Gelbart adapted their libretto of A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, for the film version, and worked together again on the screenplay to Bryan Forbes’ black farce movie, The Wrong Box. Returning to Broadway in 1967, Shevelove directed Hallelujah, Baby!, a musical by Arthur Laurents, with a Betty Comden and Adolph Green score. Impressive performances from Leslie Uggams, Lillian Hayman, Allen Case, and Robert Hooks, ensured a decent run of 293 performances. Four years later, Shevelove reconstructed the lengthy and involved book of the original 1925 No, No, Nanette into the fast-moving 1971 version ‘without losing a laugh-line’. Starring ex-movie actress Ruby Keeler, Bobby Van, Jack Gilford, Patsy Kelly, and Helen Gallagher, ‘Nanette’ won four Tony Awards and ran for 861 performances. Shevelove found himself working frequently with Stephen Sondheim in the early 70s - having been friendly with the composer since they worked together on ‘Forum ’ back in the 60s. Shevelove was called in to direct Sondheim: A Musical Tribute, which played at the Shubert Theatre in New York for one night in March 1973, and the duo combined again for The Frogs, which was based on the play by Aristophanes, and played eight performances in the Yale University swimming pool from 20 May 1974. Among the members of the chorus on that occasion were Meryl Streep and Sigourney Weaver. Shevelove’s final Broadway stint was helming Happy New Year (1980), a musical he created from Cole Porter songs and Philip Barry’s play, Holiday. He was to have directed the West End musical, Windy City (1982), with a cast led by Dennis Waterman and Anton Rodgers, but died shortly before the show went into rehearsal.