TODAY: Composer Charles Strouse Celebrates His 90th Birthday
By Don Adkins, Managing Editor, June 7, 2018
The headline could read “Home Town Boy Makes Good.” Ninety years ago today Charles Strouse was born in New York City and would go on to become one of the most iconic musical theater composers of the last half century. If we are to believe that an artist reflects their own personal beliefs through their work, then to acknowledge the hopefulness of songs such as “Put On a Happy Face” (from Bye Bye Birdie; lyrics by Lee Adams) and “Tomorrow” (from Annie; lyrics by Martin Charnin) to the poignancy expressed in “Once Upon a Time” (from All American; lyrics Lee Adams), then we would have to believe the man behind these songs, and so many more, is a special man indeed.
Mr. Strouse has written scores for over 30 stage musicals, including 14 for Broadway. He has also composed scores for five Hollywood films, two orchestral works and an opera. He has been inducted to the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Theatre Hall of Fame. He is a three–time Tony Award winner, a two–time Emmy Award winner, and his cast recordings have earned him two Grammy Awards. His song “Those Were the Days” launched over 200 episodes of All in the Family and continues to reach new generations of television audiences in syndication. With hundreds of productions licensed annually, his musicals Annie and Bye Bye Birdie are among the most popular of all time–produced by regional, amateur and school groups all over the world.
We were able to reach out to a few of the artists who have worked with Mr. Strouse over the years though their involvement with the premieres of his Broadway musicals, and for a number of them, these ‘moments in time’ mark the beginning of long professional and personal friendships lasting through the years. We are sharing these heartfelt tributes and birthday wishes for this musical theater legend below.
We salute you, Mr. Strouse, and wish you the very best on your special day.
Susan Watson, Kim MacAffe in the Original Broadway Production of Bye Bye Birdie (1960)
Happy 90th! What a chapter of life this is, filled with marvelous memories…
At the top of my list is your Bye Bye Birdie and my joyous experience — at age 22 — of playing Kim MacAffe, Paul Lynde’s innocent 15-year-old daughter. It was my very first Broadway musical, and from the show’s opening on April 14, 1960 and for 607 performances, every night I got such a spirit-lift listening to your fabulous score. In giving me two, marvelously lilting songs, “How Lovely To Be A Woman” and “One Boy,” you launched me into my ingénue career on Broadway. Indeed, nowadays every time I “go to a fancy night club and stay up after ten,” I think of you.
I am now 79-years-old, still working, and in my cabaret show when I sing “One Boy,” I so fondly remember singing it in Birdie as a duet with Chita Rivera. Life doesn’t get any better than that, and you made it happen!
You are a dear man, thank you for being in my life, and from far-off Los Angeles, I send you all my love.
Chita Rivera, Rose Grant in the Original Broadway Production of Bye Bye Birdie (1960)
Charles I call him out of respect. Buddy I call him out of love. I always called him Buddy.
This is a wonderful time to thank him for the wonderful memories and for being a part of my life from 1960 to today.
Birdie was joyous and fun, hearing “Spanish Rose” the first time was exciting and every day we loved what we were doing, thanks to Charles and the team.
Bye Bye Birdie brightens my life even now. I’m still singing “Lotta Livin” and “English Teacher.”
Thank you for filling my life with music and being a part of who I am.
“Happy Birthday” — you still have a lot more livin’ to do.
Love “Your Rosie” Chita.
Penny Fuller, Eve Harrington in the Original Broadway Production of Applause (1970)
Thank you for Applause!!
AND for that sweet darling song, “One Halloween” that finally set the record straight about that dear, misunderstood ingénue, Eve Harrington.
And, of course, for my favorite song EVER: “Lorna’s Here,” from Golden Boy, which you and I have sung at various events and galas!
Thank you for keeping musical theater ALIVE with your genius and exquisite music.
And, thank you for your invaluable friendship over the years!
Danielle Briseboise, Molly in the Original Broadway Production of Annie (1977)
When I was a six year old girl I only based my opinion on people from how they made me feel and how they treated me. When I first met Charles Strouse I was 100% enamored with him. HIs warm smile and is soulful eyes. He was always encouraging, thoughtful and kind. I had no idea I was in the presence of a legend! I loved when he was in the room during rehearsals for Annie as his presence made the sometimes overwhelmingness of it all safer. I was fortunate enough to be able to lay under the piano at the Goodspeed Opera House in Connecticut while Annie was still in its baby stages and witness Charles, Martin and Tom create some of the songs for the play. I am sure that witnessing that level of talent influenced my passion for songwriting. I loved Charles as a kid just for the wonderful person he was.
As I got older and started to learn more about him other than just “Charles from Annie” — I was blown away at the songs he wrote! “Put On A Happy Face!!!!! !!!! COME ON!!! WOW!!
And Charles was responsible for me meeting Norman Lear and finding my way onto All In The Family — as Charles wrote that iconic theme song as well and he was kind enough to make the introduction when he knew I was leaving Annie and looking to try my 9 year old hand at TV!
Now he’s 90!!! I can’t believe it! Congrats Charles! I hope you have a very happy birthday and your beautiful music has taken me through many a hard day. I am so honored to know you. You are one of the true greats!
Joanna Gleason, Nora Charles, and Chris Sarandon, Victor Moisa, in the Original Broadway Production of Nick and Nora (1994)
You are directly responsible for this, Charlie! Now in our 27th year 🙂 Nick and Nora was our communal foxhole, with shrapnel flying every day, but you retained your sweetness and always treated us with love. We send love back to you today and always. And we thank you! (when Chris sang “Class“ the deal was sealed).
Joanna and Chris
Anita Gillette, Susan in the Original Broadway Production of All American (1962)
All American was the first Broadway show in which I created an original role. I played a nymphomaniacal coed. Mel Brooks wrote the script and Charles wrote me the sexy, funny, bluesy song “Nightlife,” but then, Charles IS sexy, funny, and sometimes bluesy! It’s a great song and if you listen to the recording of that score, you will see how incredible the music is. What could be better than “Once Upon A Time”? His music is impeccable. I don’t think I ever told him, but Irving Berlin used to come down to the back of the Winter Garden — his office was above the theatre — to watch me do my number when he was casting Mr. President. He said wonderful things about Charles’ score. I’m sure Charles Strouse’s songs will live forever as well. Happy Birthday, my lovely man. I adore you!
Editor’s note: Information included in this feature is courtesy of charlesstrouse.com.
Cover: Charles Strouse; courtesy of artist.