COURTESY HONOLULU SYMPHONY
Marvelous Marvin Hamlisch
The composer-king brings his pops orchestra shtick to Honolulu
Here in Hawaii it's dreary and rainy, and in New York it's unseasonably warm and pleasant, so guess where Marvin Hamlisch has a killer cold? At least it sounded like he did when he begged off a phone interview last week. "Disses Muhvynn Umleech. Gudda code. (sniff) Kindu indavoob n'wheek? T'unks," said the celebrated composer and conductor.
Conducts the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra in a "Special Event Pops Concert," with vocalist J. Mark McVey
In concert: 7:30 p.m. Jan. 16
Place: Blaisdell Concert Hall
Tickets: $28 to $78
Call: 792-2000 or visit honolulusymphony.com
Not exactly notable and quotable. But after the weekend, Hamlisch was feeling better. On Tuesday, he seizes the reins of the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra and steers it headlong into another Pops performance of movie and Broadway music, assisted by tenor vocalist J. Mark McVey of the Broadway edition of "Les Miserables."
"The sun in Hawaii is going to help me like crazy," declared Hamlisch. "It's always beautiful there. That and the antibiotics I'm taking."
There was a time when Marvin Hamlisch was everywhere, the true king of all media. He had Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony sitting on his shelf, and not a week would go by when he didn't pop up somewhere, impressing us mightily not only with his musical chops, but with his genial good humor, skating just this side of adorable nerdishness.
You won't be surprised to learn that Hamlisch was a child prodigy, the youngest kid ever admitted to the Juilliard School, and now that he's turned the corner on 60, music is "still in my head all the time, all day long." But he's not in the media spotlight anymore, not like the old days. Maybe he should hang with Britney and Paris.
That doesn't mean he's sitting on his hands. Hamlisch is pops conductor for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, the National Symphony Orchestra and the San Diego Symphony, and the musical shtick he's developed has become an in-demand item for orchestras around the country.
"I have a show that we do, that's what it is," explained Hamlisch. "I bring a singer, and the day of the show we rehearse with the symphony and then just do it! It's a lot of fun and a lot of music. We do a thing called 'Rent a Composer,' where I ask people to come up with a brand new title and I write a song for it on the spot. It's very oriented to having a good time. Like a variety show with only one guest!"
And he doesn't restrict himself to his own music. "Doesn't matter to me who. Could be Richard Rogers or 'My Fair Lady' or whoever. A lot of different music."
He's also interested in composing a new Broadway show. But that's an uphill slog, as Broadway keeps recycling shows and then they run for years.
"It takes forever. I hate it. I can't stop it. But what are you going to do? There are only a finite number of theaters in New York, and when a show has a long run, it displaces anything else that might come in. It's a balancing act, figuring out who goes in and out.
"I'm just sniffing around these days at the possibility of doing another show, meeting with folks in New York and Las Vegas and these places. I just love Broadway, and I'd love to do another show."
He's almost having too much fun playing pops with orchestras.
"Pops is proving to be very good for orchestras. A way to get more people into the concert hall and then hope that these people embrace the classical. ... I want kids to come to shows -- even if they have to be dragged by their parents! -- so they can learn that there was a Cole Porter or a George Gershwin. ...
"Kids today -- it's not their fault that they don't hear this music. Radio is horrible. Here's the list, play it! Horrible."
After all, he listed to rock as a kid, but he knew Bach and Beethoven, too.
"When I was growing up, we had 'The Ed Sullivan Show,' and that's where I heard most of this stuff. Today there's no place to hear it. Where do you go to hear the music from 'Camelot'? It's very hard. So I tell the parents, 'Bring the children, and I guarantee the kids will have a good time.' "
Hamlisch's best-known work is likely his arrangements for the movie "The Sting," and he wishes he "could take the credit for using Scott Joplin, but I can't! I didn't even know he existed! I came in on the film and they already knew they wanted to use Scott Joplin, and all I did was go to the library and pull out every piece of music Joplin ever wrote, put it on the piano and play it all to find pieces I liked for the film.
"I was amazed at the response -- not to the film, because I knew the film was a winner -- but amazed that music would go up the charts 50 years after he died."
Hamlisch travels constantly, pops-ing here and there, and yet home base will always be New York.
"I'm never going to get out of New York. It's not that I like it so much," mused Hamlisch. "My father used to say that New York was a disease; once you had it, you could not get rid of it. I'm used to New York. I've lived here all my life. You sell an apartment in New York and they give you a million dollars, and then you try to find another place to live here, and it's 2 million. So you're stuck where you are if you want to stay."
Neither can he retire. "It's horrible to say, but you know, most people who retire die very quickly. They're missing that impetus to get up and go and do. They retire, and then just fold up and away. So I just keep going and going, and when it happens, it happens. What can I say? Die with your boots on."
One more question. Evangelist Jerry Falwell claims that the Antichrist is already among us, and that he is an adult male Jew. When asked if the Antichrist, in that case, could be Marvin Hamlisch, Falwell noted it was entirely possible.
So Marvin Hamlisch -- and we don't get to ask this very often -- are you the Antichrist?
"Ha ha ha ha! Everything's possible, right? Ha ha ha ha! (cough cough cough)."