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Whenever a great musical theater luminary dies, I listen to every cast album that represents this songwriter’s work in chronological order.

This past week has been especially moving, thanks to the lyrics of Sheldon Harnick, who, we must be grateful, made it to 99.

I started with NEW FACES OF ’52, to which Harnick contributed both music and lyrics to “Boston Beguine.” A woman tells of her unsuccessful romantic liaison in “Boston: land of the free, home of the brave, home of the Red Sox.”

This must be a non-sequitur to those who don’t know baseball. In 1952, Boston had two baseball teams: the American League’s Red Sox and the National League’s Braves.Ten months after the show opened – and only 15 days before it closed – the Boston Braves moved to Milwaukee (and later to Atlanta, where they remain today.) 

So much time has passed that many don’t get Sheldon Harnick’s excellent play on words. 

“But yes,” Harnick once told me, “I was referring to both teams.”

Speaking of sports, Harnick’s first Broadway musical, The Body Beautiful,dealt with the world of boxing. However, the most endearing lyric came from a nostalgic song called “Summer Is,” the second-act opener. 

“Winter is gloves and homburg, winter is cold cement; Summer is Sigmund Romberg in a music tent.”  

That was still true when The Body Beautifulopened in 1958. Summer stock was still offering such Romberg classics as THE DESERT SONG and THE STUDENT PRINCE in canvas-topped tents with seats made of canvas, too. 

Harnick and composer-collaborator Jerry Bock saw The Body Beautiful run fewer than two months. But the team’s next one ran 13 times longer. It tied with THE SOUND OF MUSIC as Tony’s Best Musical of 1959-60 and won a Pulitzer to boot.

It was Fiorello! (as in La Guardia), the candidate who wanted to help the women who were unhappy with their salaries and working hours. Now they had stopped stitching clothes and were on strike. Harnick had them sing a song with such clever with wordplay and rhymes that they demand to be numbered to accentuate each bit of brilliance:

“Must we 

1) sew and 

2) sew

3) So-lely to survive

4) So some 

5) low

6) so-and-so

Can thrive?”

Sew and sew and so-and-so! Harnick must have danced around his living room for 20 minutes after he thought of that one.

Tenderloin came next, about Dr. Brock, a devout minster who preached mightily to eliminate the nefarious nightlife that went on in a certain dangerous New York City neighborhood. However, we saw another side of him when he went to the beach,looked out to the ocean and then sung drolly to one of his adversaries:

“See the way the ocean

Merges with the sky?

Let’s be like that –

You and I!”

How many writers would think of the blue of the ocean matching the blue of the sky?Now that’s detail.

In She Loves Me, delivery boy Arpad wants to be a clerk in Maraczek’s perfume shop. Now that one clerk has been fired, Arpad, with fervor of a Pseudolus seeking freedom, knows that this moment in which he can get a promotion may not come again for some time. As he entreats his boss:

“And why break someone in

When I’m already broken?”

Just as Harnick had created the “sew and sew” / “so-and-so” type of hyphenate in Fiorello! he matched its brilliance with one in FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, where Tevye has just promised his eldest daughter Tzeitzel to butcher Lazar Wolf.

TEVYE: Here’s to the father I tried to be.

LAZAR: Here’s to my bride-to-be!

In THE APPLE TREE, Adam has finally figured out what Eve recently brought into their cave. “It’s a Fish,” he proclaims, but we get a hint of what it really is early in the song:

“Though on occasion, it says ‘Goo.’”

That’s baby-talk, so we’re in on the joke which Adam still doesn’t get at song’s end:

“And though I’ve hunted far and wide

While Eve had hardly stepped outside,

I’ll be damned if she didn’t find another!”

Well, there’s Cain and Abel for you, as Harnick condensed what had to be at least 10 months into a one-minute-and-forty-six second song.

In THE ROTHSCHILDS, Mayer is teachinghis oh-so-impetuous son Nathan how to sella product. 

MAYER: “When a shopper says – ”

NATHAN: “When a shopper says – ” 

We accept Nathan’s repeating Mayer’s as a musical theater convention – the beginning of a round. No: an exasperated Mayer interrupts the kid with, “Nathan – listen.” What theatergoer didn’t laugh at being faked out? 

For REX, Harnick gave us “Elizabeth,” in which Henry VIII has his beautiful infant daughter on his lap. He’s amused that she’s so sleepy but, he likes to think, she’s trying to stay awake to spend more time with her daddy. 

Here, we see that if Henry weren’t so concerned with having a son who could become king of England and would keep the country strong, he’d enjoy and love his daughter. Harnick humanized Henry; he didn’t love her less, but worried about England more.

Come January, we’ll be able to read The Complete Lyrics of Sheldon Harnick, for which Ken Bloom has compiled more than 1,000 of the lyricist’s songs. Says Bloom, “Some have Sheldon’s own commentary on how they were written as well as other observations.”   

And which one of those thousand-plus songswill be the one for which Sheldon Harnick will be most be remembered? It’s the one that begins, “Is this the little girl I carried? Is this the little boy at play? I don’t remember growing older; when did they?” 

Which parent couldn’t relate to that universal truth?

FIDDLER’S “Sunrise, Sunset” became a standard despite not getting a representative recording from a famous artist. The ‘60s saw Barbra Streisand do “People,” The Fifth Dimension sing “Aquarius” and “Let the Sunshine In” and Louis Armstrong exclaim “Hello, Dolly!” “People” made it to Number Four on the charts, while the other two made it all the way to Number One.

No one of such stature had a breakthrough hit with “Sunrise, Sunset.” In fact, when jazz saxophonist Cannonball Adderly released an album of FIDDLER’S songs, he included the dropped “Dear Sweet Sewing Machine” and “Chavaleh” – he even released the latter as a single – but he didn’t record “Sunrise, Sunset.”

The best that “Sunrise, Sunset” could chart was 84th place thanks to a Roger Williams recording. In case you don’t recognize the name, he was a pianist – which meant that Harnick’s lyrics weren’t heard. What a slap in the face! Sure. Bock’s minor-key melody is superb, but Harnick’s lyrics are what make the song special.

Despite this, “Sunrise, Sunset” has become a true standard – the term used for a song that remains in the public consciousness for decades after its first release. For more than a half-century, a band at a wedding, a bar- or bat-mitzvah has inevitably played it. That will continue, which will allow Sheldon Harnick to still be with us for thousands of more sunrises and sunsets.

Peter Filichia can be heard most weeks of the year on His new book – THE BOOK OF BROADWAY MUSICAL DEBATES, DISPUTES, AND DISAGREEMENTS – is now available on Amazon. He’ll be teaching Master Classes on Lerner and Loewe on July 11 and 18. Sign up at”