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It Goes Like it Goes

Cristiana Cavallo, Richard Steele, and company in "It Goes Like It Goes" (photo by Jim Bush)

David Shire, the internationally renowned, Buffalo-born composer, is being honored by the University at Buffalo Department of Theater and Dance this week with an evening of his music, entitled It Goes Like it Goes: The Music of David Shire. The show is co-directed by Terry Berliner and Nathan Matthews.

The song-fest, which plays through Sunday, takes its title from Shire’s Academy-Award-winning song of the same name, written for the 1979 film Norma Rae. The film also earned a Best Actress Oscar for actress Sally Field. While winning an Oscar is certainly huge by any standard, Shire’s accomplishments only begin there. Indeed, he is the biggest composer for the stage and screen to come out of Buffalo since Harold Arlen.

The son of late Buffalo band leader, Irv Shire, David Shire grew up in Buffalo before leaving to attend Yale, where he was a member of Phi Beta Kappa and graduated magna cum laude. He would become one of the nation’s most celebrated composers for theater, film, television, and recording.

His songs, with lyrics by, among others, Richard Maltby, Norman Gimbel, Marilyn and Alan Bergman, Carol Connors, or himself, have been recorded by Barbra Streisand (who has recorded five of them, including “Starting Here, Starting Now,” which was the opening number of her last world tour concert), Maureen McGovern, Melissa Manchester, Jennifer Warnes, Julie Andrews, John Pizzarelli, Liz Callaway, Lynne Wintersteller, Nancy Lamont, Vanessa Williams, Glenn Campbell, Johnny Mathis, Kiri Te Kanawa, Kathy Lee Gifford, Robert Goulet and Michael Crawford, among many others. “I’ll Never Say Goodbye,” with lyrics by Marilyn and Alan Bergman, was nominated for an Academy Award the same year as “It Goes Like It Goes.” His “With You I’m Born Again,” with lyrics by Carol Connors, was an international Motown hit for Billy Preston and Syreeta, and he and David Pomeranz co-wrote “In Our Hands,” the theme song for the United Nations World Summit for Children.

On Broadway, Shire and lyricist Richard Maltby wrote the scores for the musicals Baby (Tony nominations for Best Score and Musical) and Big (Tony nomination for Best Score). His off-Broadway scores, also written with Maltby, include Starting Here, Starting Now (Grammy nomination), Closer Than Ever (Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Musical and Score), Urban Blight at the Manhattan Theater Club, and the off-Broadway musical The Sap of Life. He also wrote the incidental scores for As You Like It (NY Shakespeare Festival), Peter Ustinov’s The Unknown Soldier and His Wife (Lincoln Center), Donald Margulis’s The Loman Family Picnic (starring Buffalo’s Christine Baranski at the Manhattan Theatre Club), Schmulnick’s Waltz, and Visiting Mr. Green.

Maltby and Shire’s most recent project, the musical Take Flight, with book by John Weidman, was workshopped at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center, presented in concert versions in Russia and Australia, and produced in London, at the Menier Chocolate Factory, and in Japan in 2007. It had its first American production at Princeton’s McCarter Theatre in the spring of 2010. A Stream of Voices, a one-act opera written with librettist Gene Scheer and commissioned by the Colorado Children’s Chorale, premiered in Denver in 2009.

In addition to his Academy Award, Shire has two Grammy awards and multiple Tony and Emmy nominations. Beyond Norma Rae, his film scores include Francis Coppola’s The Conversation, All the President’s Men, The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3, Short Circuit, 2010, Farewell, My Lovely, The Hindenberg, Return to Oz, and Saturday Night Fever, for which he earned his two Grammy Awards. He also scored David Fincher’s Zodiac and Peter Hyams’s Beyond a Reasonable Doubt. His television scores have earned five Emmy nominations and include Sarah Plain and Tall, starring Glenn Close; Rear Window, starring Christopher Reeve; Raid on Entebbe; Oprah Winfrey’s The Women of Brewster Place; The Kennedys of Massachusetts; Wendy Wasserstein’s The Heidi Chronicles; and Neil Simon’s Jake’s Women and Broadway Bound. He also composed “There’s a New Girl in Town,” the theme song, with lyrics by Marilyn and Alan Bergman, for the long-running Linda Lavin NBC series Alice.

The UB project got started a few years ago when Nathan Matthews of the university’s musical theater program asked the composer if he would consent to such an event.

“Well!” exclaims Shire, speaking by telephone from his Hudson Valley home. “Who wouldn’t like that? All I had to do was supply some music and show up. I was happy to oblige.”

Ever busy, Shire’s trip to Buffalo will give him a quick rest from his current projects. At the moment, he and Didi Conn are pursuing a new animated musical television series that they co-created and co-produced called Didi Lightful.

“Someone just picked up the option,” he reveals, “and we are di-lighted!”

Shire also shares that he is currently at work on a new musical for the stage with New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik.

“It’s called From Paris to the Moon,” he says, “and it is about a cook—a 30-something guy who is a traditional cook, and thinks his style of cooking has gone out of fashion. He reluctantly becomes involved in a cooking show. And, of course, there is a love triangle involving his best friend and the woman they both love. Gordon Edelstein of the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut, will give us a production with plans to take it into New York.”

Shire explains that the show and his collaboration with Adam Gopnik had a very unusual beginning.

“I’ve always loved Adam’s writing,” he says. “And then one evening I was reading the New Yorker in bed and I said to Didi, ‘Why don’t people like Adam Gopnik ever want to write for the musical theater?’ and she said, ‘How do you know they don’t?’

“Well, a few weeks later, Didi saw Adam at an event and she asked him if he’d ever been interested in the musical theater, and he said, ‘Have I? That’s the reason I came to New York! The musical theater is my dream. I only got into other sorts of writing to pay the bills!’ So we met and we talked and I suggested, since he writes so brilliantly about cooking, that we explore that avenue, and here we are!”

Meanwhile, Shire says that Didi Conn is working on a one-woman show about raising their special-needs son, Danny, who is autistic, and how boxing helped her with the demands. In addition, they’re thinking of selling their Snedens Landing home, where they’ve lived for many years.

“Now that Danny has moved out and is settled into a new living situation at a residential school, it’s a lot of house,” Shire syas. “We love it, but it might be time to downsize.”

Ah, it goes like it goes!

The musical tribute to the genius of David Shire will be performed Thursday and Friday at 7:30pm, Saturday at 2pm and 7:30pm, and Sunday at 2pm, in the Drama Theatre, Center for the Arts, UB North Campus. Call 716-645-ARTS for ticket information.