Tag Archives: The People in the Picture

Songwriting Great Mike Stoller Looks Back, Moves Forward

Songwriting great Mike Stoller celebrates his 79th birthday March 13, but he’s keeping up a schedule that could frighten a younger man.  Stoller’s activities are diverse as can be — from participating in planning meetings for the Democratic Convention, to book signings of his Hound Dog: The Leiber & Stoller Autobiography at Graceland during this summer’s Elvis Week.  It’s the 35th anniversary year of Elvis’ passing.

“It’s extremely gratifying when people talk about how much our songs have meant to them,” says Stoller, who lost his writing partner of 61 years, Jerry Leiber, last year.

The man who cowrote more than 20 songs for The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll admits he’s been asked all too many times, “What was Elvis really like?”  It’s a complicated answer, he says, and “I usually avoid the question if I can.  It’s either that, or they ask ‘What was your favorite song that you’ve written?'”  That one’s easier.  “My favorite song is the one I’m working on at the moment, always.  But Jerry and I would always say our favorites were Big Mama Thornton’s  ‘Hound Dog,’ or Peggy Lee’s ‘Is That All There Is?’  That gives you kind of the breadth we enjoyed.”

Stoller will be fielding questions today (3/6) with his wife, Corky Hale Stoller, who has her own illustrious musical history.  The couple are kicking off a new “In Conversation” Speaker Series at the Museum at Eldridge Street in New York.

Mike Stolle.

He also has, newly in release, the cast album CD of his The People In The Picture Broadway show, starring Donna Murphy.  According to Stoller, there are plans underway to bring the work, on which he collaborated with Artie Butler and Iris Rainer Dart, to other cities around the country next year.  The story time-travels from present day, back to pre-WWII Yiddish theater.  “It was a very moving story, very touching.  Audiences in general really seemed to like it, they had tears in their eyes,” he says.

And then there’s the prospect of Stoller being present for the upcoming unveiling of the Edith Piaf stamp, since he and Leiber wrote the legendary singer’s biggest-selling record, “L’Homme a La Moto.”  That would require a trip to Paris — but that, he acknowledges, wouldn’t be bad.

Iris Rainer Dart Has People in the Picture Opening, Beaches Musical on the Way

Beaches, the Broadway musical, is “very close to being finished” reports Iris Rainer Dart, whose beloved 1985 novel was adapted into the hit 1988 feature starring Bette Midler.  She owns the rights to her novel and has been working with composer David Aaron Austin on the stage musical for “about four years.  He’s half my age.  When I work with him I feel I’m half my age,” adds the esteemed writer with a laugh.

Dart has recently been focusing her considerable energies on her The People in the Picture, which gets its official opening tonight (4/28).  The original musical, written by Dart with songs and music by Mike Stoller and Artie Butler, has two-time Tony winner Donna Murphy playing a woman both in her prime and as a grandmother — in her 1930s life as a member of a Yiddish film company in Poland, and in her 1970s life as a New York City-based Bubbe. Theatergoing bloggers have been lavish in their praise of Murphy’s performance as she transitions back and forth between youth and old age as her saga comes to life.

Dart says she brought Beaches musical material along with her from her Monterey, CA home to New York, “naively thinking I would have time to work on it here.”  Instead, she’s been caught up in a whirl of People activities, including a pre-opening night party she and Stoller planned for last night, and an opening night party put on by the Roundabout Theatre Company tonight.

Iris Rainer Dart

Works like The People in the Picture are “the reason we have to support not-for-profit theaters,” Dart feels.  “They’ve reached out and taken a risk.  This is not a movie adaptation, not a cartoon character — but actually an original story.  Not-for-profit theaters are the ones that are able to, and should be, taking those risks.  Our experience with Roundabout has been A-plus.”

People in the Picture winds its limited run June 19, and Dart is hopeful, of course, that it will do well enough to find its way into a commercial theater.  “I’d like to be strong enough to not pay attention to reviews, but I know I’m not,” she admits.

She recalls that Stephen Schwartz was her earliest musical collaborator — when she was a 19-year-old theater student at Carnegie Mellon, and the multiple Oscar-winning composer of Wicked was merely a promising 16-year-old tunesmith.  And “Wicked is still running five years later after bad reviews.  So who knows?  We’ll hold a good thought and hope they give us good points for originality and all the things Broadway says that it wants.”

Dart started The People in the Picture when her daughter was 10.  Now she is 25, and Dart says she told her, “No matter what the outcome, I wouldn’t trade a minute of this experience.”

And once the show is launched, she’ll turn her attention back to Beaches, the musical.  She says she stays in touch with Bette Midler, by the way.  “In fact, she’s coming to see The People in the Picture next week.”