The collaboration of Richard Maltby, Jr. and David Shire is one of the longest-running “acts” in show business, outlasting the partnerships of Gilbert & Sullivan, Rodgers & Hammerstein, Lerner & Loewe and—well, just about any other team you could name. That fact speaks to the deep artistic affinity between the two men, who began writing theater scores at Yale in the late 1950s and now, more than a half century later, are unveiling their latest creation, Waterfall.
As undergraduates, they wrote two musicals, Cyrano and Grand Tour. They met up again in New York City, where their musical The Sap of Life was produced off-Broadway in 1961. Several shows followed. Then Shire found work as a rehearsal pianist for Funny Girl, and eventually became Barbra Streisand’s regular accompanist and occasional arranger. Over the next decade, Streisand would record five Maltby/Shire songs, including “Autumn” (their first collaboration at Yale) and “Starting Here, Starting Now,” featured on her 1964 television special and companion album Color Me Barbra.
In 1970, Shire moved to California to write film scores, eventually composing music for over 42 features and 90 television programs. In 1980, “It Goes Like It Goes,” his theme song from Norma Rae (lyrics by Norman Gimbel), won the Oscar for Best Song.
Maltby remained on the east coast to pursue a life in the theater as a writer/director, and for a while their careers diverged as each found success in new ventures. Then in 1976 Maltby was asked to stage a revue of songs from the Maltby/Shire catalogue. Shire came back from Hollywood to provide the arrangements, and the show, Starting Here, Starting Now, was a great success. A second Maltby/Shire revue, Closer than Ever, would appear in 1989. It enjoyed a healthy run, and won Outer Critics Circle Awards for Best Musical and Best Score.
Two other Maltby-directed revues have won Tony Awards® for Best Musical: Ain’t Misbehavin’, inspired by Fats Waller’s life and music (for which Maltby won the Tony Award for Best Director), and Fosse, a dance tribute to the great choreographer.
In 1983, Broadway welcomed a new Maltby/Shire musical, Baby, which explored how lives are changed by parenthood.
Maltby had his most impressive success to date with Miss Saigon, for which he wrote the evocative lyrics. It opened on Broadway in 1991 and ran for nearly a decade. The last Maltby/Shire collaboration to reach Broadway was Big (1996).
If the theater gods smile, Waterfall will be the team’s next and perhaps most adventurous production.
By ALBERT EVANS, Music & Artistic Associate