Marshall Barer

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Productive American author, songwriter, singer and lyricist from the 1950s through to the '90s.
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b. Marshall Louis Barer, 19 February 1923, Long Island City, New York, USA, d. 25 August 1998, Santa Fe, New Mexico. An author, songwriter and singer, Barer was an eccentric, witty, mercurial character. After attending Palm Beach High School and the Cavanagh School of Art, he worked in the advertising business as a designer and illustrator on magazines such as Esquire and McCall’s. All this time, however, he was writing songs, and later special material for nightclub performers. In the early 50s he met Yale alumnus Dean Fuller, and they contributed words and music to the revues Once Over Lightly (1955, Zero Moste l, Jack Gilford, Sono Osato), New Faces Of 1956 (Tiger Haynes, Inga Swenson, and future British stage star Maggie Smith), and the 1957 Golden Jubilee edition of the Ziegfeld Follies, starring Beatrice Lillie. Barer and Fuller, with Jay Thompson, were also credited with the book for the 1959 musical Once Upon A Mattress (‘Shy’, ‘Song Of Love’, ‘Happily Ever After’, ‘Very Soft Shoes’, ‘Many Moons Ago’, ‘Yesterday I Loved You’, ‘In A Little While’). This expanded musical adaptation of the Hans Andersen comic fable The Princess And The Pea, which ran for a creditable 460 performances, also featured Barer’s witty lyrics, beguiling music by Mary Rodgers, and introduced actress-comedienne Carol Burnett to Broadway. What is more, the show endured, and on its 25th anniversary in 1984, Once Upon A Mattress was reported to be the second most-produced musical in the USA - after Oklahoma! It returned to Broadway briefly in 1996/97, with a cast headed by Sarah Jessica Parker. Thirty years earlier, in 1966, Barer had worked with Mary Rodgers again on The Mad Show (871 performances off-Broadway). In the same year he formed a lyrical partnership with Fred Tobias for Pousse-Café (‘Someone To Care For’, ‘Thank You, Ma’am’, ‘Let’s’, ‘My Heart Is A Stranger’). Jazz legend Duke Ellington composed the music for this adaptation of Heinrich Mann’s novel, Professor Unrath, which starred Theodore Bikel, and folded after only three Broadway performances. It marked the end of Barer’s association with Broadway, although he continued ‘gleefully to mate his lyrics’ (as his amusing Playbill biography puts it) to the melodies of Vernon Duke, David Shire, and David Ross - along with William Roy, Michel Legrand, J. Fred Coots, and Leroy Anderson, among numerous others. He even opted for Offenbach at one stage, adapting that composer’s La Belle Helene for the unstaged La Belle. More familiar are songs such as ‘I’m Just A Country Boy’, which he wrote with Fred Brooks, who, under the name of Fred Hellerman, was a founder member of the Weavers US folk group. Notable recordings of the number included those by Harry Belafonte, Don Williams, and in Britain, Val Doonican. Another often played number of his, ‘Summer Is A-Comin’ In’, had music by Alec Wilder. From the 70s onwards Barer interpreted his own works, and parodied those by others, in cabaret, and that is the milieu in which his often acerbic but always entertaining songs still surface from time to time. One particularly appealing item, ‘On Such A Night As This’ (with Hugh Martin), was featured on Andrea Marcovicci Sings Movies (1988). He was active until just before his death, which occurred some two years after he received the 1996 ASCAP Richard Rodgers Award.