Martin Charnin

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A director, lyricist, composer, producer, author and actor, popular from the late 1950s through the '80s.
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b. Martin Jay Charnin, 24 November 1934, New York, USA. A director, lyricist, composer, producer, author, and actor. In 1957 Charnin played the part of Big Deal, a member of the Jets, in the original Broadway cast of West Side Story, and two years later was in the revue The Girls Against The Boys, starring Bert Lahr and Nancy Walker. Around the same time, he began writing lyrics, at first for revues such as Kaleidoscope Revue (1957), which began its life at the Provincetown Playhouse in Boston, Massachusetts, and Fallout Revue and Pieces Of Eight (both 1959), and Seven Come Eleven (1961), all three of which opened off-Broadway. In 1963 he wrote the words to Mary Rodgers’ music for his first book show, the much-hyped Hot Spot starring Judy Holliday, which folded after 43 performances at New York’s Majestic Theatre. Also credited on one of the production’s best songs, ‘Don’t Laugh’, was Stephen Sondheim. Charnin’s next effort, Zenda (1963), proved to be composer Vernon Duke’s final musical. It closed out of town in San Francisco in spite of having a cast headed by Alfred Drake, Anne Rogers, and Chita Rivera. In 1967 Mata Hari suffered the same fate, failing to progress beyond Washington, DC. This ‘anti-war operetta’, involving Vincente Minnelli (director) and David Merrick (producer), had music composed by Edward Thomas. A year later, it was presented off-Broadway in a scaled-down, revised version entitled Ballad For A Firing Squad, which was directed by Charnin himself. Having worked with Mary Rodgers early in his career, in 1970 he collaborated with her legendary father, Richard Rodgers, on Two By Two. Peter Stone’s book was based on the play The Flowering Peach by Clifford Odets, and the show’s run of 343 performances was due in no small part to the presence in the cast of Danny Kaye. Only one of the songs attracted much attention, the charming ‘I Do Not Know A Day I Did Not Love You’. More directorial assignments followed, including Nash At Nine (1973, Charnin’s own adaptation of the works of Ogden Nash), Music! Music! (1974), and The National Lampoon Show (1975), before Charnin achieved his biggest success so far with Annie, a musical based on the well-known comic strip, Little Orphan Annie. In company with Charles Strouse (music) and Thomas Meehan (book), lyricist Charnin directed what became one of the smash hits of the 70s. It opened at the Alvin Theatre on 21 April 1977 and ran for 2, 377 performances. For his work on Annie, Charnin won Tony, Drama Desk, and New York Drama Critics’ Circle awards, a Grammy for Best Cast Show Album, and a Standard award for the ASCAP ‘most performed song of the decade’, ‘Tomorrow’. Nothing he has been associated with since then has even approached the success of that show. In the late 70s Charnin directed Bar Mitzvah Boy (1978, 77 performances) in London, and worked again with Richard Rodgers on I Remember Mama (1979, 108 performances). In the 80s his projects as a lyricist and/or director included The First (1981), Lena Horne: The Lady And Her Music (1981), Upstairs At O’Neal’s (1982, a cabaret revue conceived and co-produced by Charnin, and for which he also wrote the witty title number), A Backer’s Audition (1983), Jokers (1986, Goodspeed Opera House), No Frills Revue (1988), Mike (1988, closed out of town), Café Crown (1989), Laughing Matters (1989), and Sid Caesar And Company: Does Anyone Know What I’m Talking About? (1989). In January 1990, two years before the original Annie began an acclaimed US national tour, a sequel called Annie 2: Miss Hannigan’s Revenge, developed by the same creative team, opened in Washington. However, it was to be more than three years before this new concept, eventually retitled Annie Warbucks reached New York, where it played for five months off-Broadway. Set free from the traumatic Annie saga, Charnin directed Starcrossed: The Galileo Musical (1994) and Loose Lips (1995), as well as radically rewriting and directing Cole Porter’s Can-Can for Goodspeed (1995). In 1996 he staged a new version of his 1967 musical, Mata Hari, which was produced by the York Theatre Company in New York. In the same year, an intriguing album entitled Incurably Romantic was released. It contained ‘Seventeen songs from twelve musicals performed by Laurie Beechman, Christy Baron, Sasha Charnin, Anita Jackson, Deborah Lippman, Andrea McCardle, Andrea Marcovicci, Maria Maples Trump, Terri White, Margaret Whiting, Barbara Walsh, and Karen Ziemba, and written by seven composers and one lyricist - Martin Charnin’. The latter also composed the music for several of the songs, including the only non-show number on the set - ‘Sing Me Pretty’. Two years later, Charnin was in London directing an Annie revival starring Lesley Joseph and Kevin Colson.

Besides his work for the stage, Charnin has also won Emmy awards for television programmes such as Annie, The Woman In The Life Of A Man (1970) and ’S Wonderful,’s Marvellous,’s Gershwin, which starred Jack Lemmon. He has produced, directed, and written lyrics for several others, and has been the author and director of nightclub acts for artists such as Nancy Wilson, Dionne Warwick, Shirley Jones, and Abbe Lane. Apart from ‘Tomorrow’, his most successful song to date is ‘Best Thing You’ve Ever Done’ which Barbra Streisand included on her The Way We Were album.