By Deborah Grace Winer
I happen to like New York. I do. And as a New Yorker, I think the reason I happen to like that phrasing coined by Cole Porter is that it’s a pleasant, matter-of-fact statement that simultaneously throws attitude: “I happen to like it. You have a problem with that?”
Of the seven shows I’ve created for Lyrics & Lyricists (with musical director John Oddo and director Mark Waldrop), this show about the many facets of Gotham life hits closest to home—because the city’s been my home since the day I was born. I’m a quintessential New Yorker. But it’s a unique hallmark of our city that quintessential New Yorkers come from everywhere. It’s an identity that is earned, a shared DNA mutated by passion and fortitude, by the idea that despite its grinding aggravations the city is the world’s pinnacle of possibility and hope and a weird kind of civility. And the belief that, to paraphrase John Updike, people who live other places must be, in some sense, kidding.
For centuries, New York has been a magnet for writers. The only actual reason there are eight million stories in the naked city is because eight million people who don’t remotely belong together are forced by a sheer lack of square footage to coexist—eat, drink, shop, walk, complain and commute in unseemly bodily contact virtually every second of the day and night. As a result, New York life revolves around the two major ingredients necessary not just for over-achievement, but for storytelling: conflict and eavesdropping.
For writers from Henry James, Edith Wharton, Dorothy Parker and Damon Runyon to late 20th- and 21st century literary lights, the city has been narrative fodder, a backdrop onto which every kind of human experience is projected. And a character unto itself. It has been the same for generations of songwriters, Broadway composers and lyricists, from George M. Cohan to Billy Joel. The great writers of the American Songbook wrote tirelessly about New York (other American cities with the occasional exception of Chicago and San Francisco are usually treated as places to be shuffled off to.…)
It helped that a large number of those songwriters were natives—of the struggling Lower East side (Irving Berlin, the Gershwins), or well-to-do Upper West Side (Rodgers and Hart, Dorothy Fields); Brooklyn (Harry Warren, Betty Comden), or the Bronx (Adolph Green, Cy Coleman, Carolyn Leigh). Other authors of quintessential New York songs and shows came from elsewhere: Leonard Bernstein (the “big three”: On the Town, Wonderful Town, West Side Story), from Massachusetts; the ultimate Park Avenue sophisticate, Cole Porter, from Indiana; ultimate Harlem sophisticate, Duke Ellington, from Washington, DC. What’s fascinating is that despite myriad voices and points of view, there is no discernible difference in passion for the city between those who were born to, or mutated into that identity of being a New Yorker.
With this show we wanted to conjure all that passion to celebrate the kaleidoscopic, breathtaking, soul-sucking, absurdist, exhausting, always fascinating ride that is life in this city. We’re glad you’re on the ride with us.
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