Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



Composers of successful songs and Broadway shows. David Shire (b 3 July 1937, Buffalo NY), pianist, composer, son of society bandleader Irving Shire, has written scores for over 100 feature films and TV movies; films including The Conversation '74, Farewell My Lovely '75 (the Robert Mitchum version), All The President's Men '76. Four scores for TV have been nominated for Emmys; his song 'It Goes Like It Goes' won an Oscar '80 (lyrics by Norman Gimbel, from film Norma Rae, sung in the soundtrack by Jennifer Warnes); 'I'll Never Say Goodbye' was nominated the same year (lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman, from The Promise, sung in the soundtrack by Melissa Manchester). 'With You I'm Born Again' (lyrics by Carol Connors; from film Fast Break) was a top five U.S. hit '79 by Billy Preston and Syreeta.

At Yale Shire met lyricist Richard Maltby Jr (b 6 December 1937, Ripon WI; the son of bandleader Richard Maltby: see his entry); they wrote two shows at Yale and carried on. After The Sap Of Life (off-Broadway '61) they wrote most of the songs for a revue at Upstairs at the Downstairs called Graham Crackers (directed by Ronnie Graham). How Do You Do, I Love You '67 had a book by Michael Stewart (Hello, Dolly!); they were brought in to doctor the score for Love Match '69 (about Victoria and Albert) and wrote a whole new one for it, but neither of these shows reached Broadway; the cast album for off-Broadway revue Starting Here, Starting Now '77 was nominated for a Grammy, and by then they had a storehouse of songs. Meanwhile, Shire had worked in pit bands on Broadway and as accompanist for Barbra Streisand, who has recorded five Shire songs: 'Autumn' (on the no. 1 album People '64), 'No More Songs For Me' (on My Name Is Barbra Two '65), 'Starting Here, Starting Now' (on Color Me Barbra '66) and 'The Morning After' (What About Today? '69) had lyrics by Maltby, and the title song 'What About Today?' had both words and music by Shire.

Talking to film director Francis Ford Coppola (who loves musicals), Shire asked him what they should write about. 'What's the most emotional thing that's happened to you in the last five years?' asked Coppola; Shire thought of being present at the birth of his son. Baby opened '83 with Maltby directing and ran for seven months on Broadway; one of three couples awaiting impending parenthood was played by Catherine Cox and Martin Vidnovic who, according to Gerald Bordman, 'like so many other fine performers, could not carve out a major career in our shrunken, transmuted musical theatre'. Urban Blight was produced by the Manhattan Theatre Club '87, a compilation of songs and playlets. Closer Than Ever opened off-Broadway '89, the songs a 'personal confession' genre from their 'urban file' ('If I Sing' was from their own experience, about their relationships with their fathers).

Shire's songs have also been recorded by Andy Williams, Pearl Bailey, Johnny Mathis, Judy Collins, Laura Branigan; he was nominated for a Grammy for Saturday Night Fever as composer and producer; he wrote songs and incidental music for the New York Shakespeare Festival production of Peter Ustinov's The Unknown Soldier And His Wife. As a director Maltby was associated with the Manhattan Theatre Club for more than a decade; he won a Tony for conceiving and directing the Fats Waller musical Ain't Misbehavin' (it also won a Tony and NY Drama Critics' Award for best musical '78); more recently he directed and adapted (with Don Black) Andrew Lloyd Webber's Song And Dance for Broadway, worked on Miss Saigon with Cameron Mackintosh and Nick And Nora with Arthur Laurents (based on The Thin Man). Like Stephen Sondheim, Maltby also compiles crossword puzzles, e.g. for Harper's magazine.

Shire and Maltby shows have had hundreds of performances world-wide. Their adaptation of Big (the Tom Hanks movie) with book by John Weidman (who worked on Sondheim's Pacific Overtures and Assassins) tried out in Detroit for a month and was endlessly rejigged: librettist Shire said it felt like 'a heart transplant with the patient awake', Maltby felt like a boat being bombed. The show opened on Broadway April '96 with 431 sound, lighting and design cues, 220 costumes for a cast of 31 and a $100,000 piano with multi-coloured lights flashing in sync with dancers on its keys. Despite a rave review from the New York Times it failed to be nominated for a Tony; the show had effectively been snubbed and closed after 200 performances, losing $10m for its backers. (Barbara Isenberg's book Making It Big tells the story.) Shire and Maltby's most successful work has not tended towards the grandiose; Andrew Lloyd Webber was saying that the writing may be on the wall for mega-musicals (but Mackintosh disagreed; see Lloyd Webber's entry).