11 Maury Yeston

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Hi, this is Paul Lazarus. In the 1980s, I produced and hosted a radio series called
Anything Goes, a celebration of the American musical theater. Now, the
Broadway Podcast Network is bringing back these shows. Today, composer-lyricist
Maury Yeston focuses on his score for the Tony-winning musical, NINE. As the
head of the BMI musical theater workshop for over 25 years, Yeston has
influenced many up-and-coming writers. His students have Tonys, Grammys, and
Pulitzer Prizes.
This is ANYTHING GOES, a celebration of the American Musical Theater--past
present and future. I’m your host, Paul Lazarus. Today, composer-lyricist Maury
Yeston talks about NINE, the musical adaptation of Federico Fellini’s film, “8-1/2,”
which won the Tony Award for best musical in 1982.

“OVERTURE from NINE” (Original Broadway Cast)
Maury Yeston’s song-writing career began at an early age.
Yeston: I won an award, I think when I was six or seven for an original
melody at the local community center and the joke is that the next award I
won was the Tony thirty years later. It was just something that I did and
going through some old papers that my mother had found the other day, I
also came across little notes I would write to her if she had been out and
she had a phone call, I would write the note that somebody had called her
in doggerel – I had forgotten that – always rhyming, always doing that,
always playing around with words that way. I just was in that direction, it’s
what I liked to do, it was fun.
Paul: When did you fall in love with musical theater? Do you remember
your first shows?
Yeston: I remember it, sure. I was ten years old and they took me to see MY
FAIR LADY. And that was it.
Paul: That’s not a bad one.


Yeston: To start out. At the Mark Hellinger. Boom. What’s this?

“NINE” (Taina Elg)

Before writing the musical NINE, Yeston wrote the title song for Caryl Churchill’s
hit Off-Broadway play CLOUD NINE.
Paul: You tell me a funny story about playing the title song for the
Yeston: Yes this is what every writer will go through, it’s about how to be
flexible. What they had asked me to do was think if I could write some song
at the end of the play that would bring it around to a kind of emotional
conclusion that would involve music. And I sat down and I wrote a song
about how difficult it is to live in the modern world. In fact, the opening line
in the song was, “it’s another day in the modern world.” I called up Tommy
Tune and Michael Stewart about a week later and said, “well I think I have
something that may be useful, I’d like you to hear it.” And we met in New
York and I played the song. And when I turned around, they were both
literally in tears. And I was in tears, it’s a very moving song. And three
weeks from that time, Caryl Churchill was scheduled to arrive from England.
And it was a big moment for us, y’know, we’re going to play the song for
Caryl. And Caryl came, we all sat down, I played her the song, when I got
finished, Caryl turned to us and said, “I hate it.” And I said, well, y’know, of
course the music is there only to serve you. And she said, “well not the
lyric, just the music.” And I said, well I think what I ought to do is perhaps
just write another song that will please all of you. That’s my function here,
to serve the piece. And I did. And that’s the one we now use in the show in
various versions.

“CLOUD NINE Rock Version” (Time Vacuum)
Yeston also provided incidental music for CLOUD NINE.


Yeston: Incidental music has its own particular function. It must be self-
contained, it’s in a way meant to be heard with only one ear because
you’ve got to pay attention to what else is going on while the music is going
on – it’s a form of underscoring, that’s one of its functions. Another of its
functions is to function as a transition or a diversion in the drama rather
than the main event. So you have got to take the back seat when you’re
writing incidental music, and it came as no surprise to me, for example, that
when CLOUD NINE was reviewed, no one mentioned the music at all.


Nine is a significant number for Maury Yeston. It not only figures in the titles of
shows, it also took nine years to get NINE on Broadway.
Yeston: I started writing the piece in 1973, that’s when I got the idea for it.
And I was an unknown writer living off by myself, working in a little room. I
didn’t have book collaborators, I didn’t have a director, I didn’t have
producers, nobody knew about me. And in order to create the piece, I had
to create theater songs that could carry the character, the scenery, the
story – in many ways, I had to work as one might work in radio. It all had to
work on the level of what you hear rather than what you see. And I knew I
would have to do that to convince people that they ought to try to put this
show on. And it took a long time to break through. New writers aren’t
ordinarily given a two-and-a-half million dollar production and twenty-two
actresses and said, here it is on a silver platter. You have to pay a lot of
dues and work very hard. And it simply took that long for the timing to be
right for me to be given an opportunity to show my work to the world.
Here’s Raul Julia, who plays film director Guido Contini in NINE, a character
modelled after Fellini himself.

“GUIDO’S SONG” (Raul Julia)


The original concept of NINE was to have a mixed cast of men and women, but
when it came to Broadway it had only one man surrounded by twenty-two
women and four boys.
Yeston: I think it was Tune who rather brilliantly suggested, having
understood that if we had all women and one man that that would not only
raise the stakes for the central character, Guido, but it would make him
instantly rather important on stage as the only man and give him some
credibility as the great director he’s supposed to be. And I must say, to his
credit, that his idea initially met resistance from Arthur Kopit, the book
writer, and met resistance from me. It was kindly resistance, I had a
problem – I had conceived a score for a mixed chorus, men and women,
and what would I do? And at his inspirational best, Tune said, “well this
gives you an opportunity to find all kinds of new and various sounds for a
female chorus.” And I said, right – I had about eight wine spritzers first –
and I said, right, let’s go.

“OVERTURE from NINE” (Original Broadway Cast)

Yeston: Liliane Montevecchi arrived on our stage on her way back to Paris I
guess from Hollywood and she said, “hello I’ve just come from Hollywood, I
went there to give them a chance to make me a star, but they did not want
to, so I am here. I am looking for a job, any job will do, even some small role
as long as I am on the stage for five minutes. Alone.” And I don’t who it
was, it may have been Tommy Tune, it may have been Arthur Kopit,
somebody said, “couldn’t she be the producer?” We said, all right, after all,
the producer is a non-singing role, it didn’t even matter how she sang, and
we didn’t even hear her sing and we offered her the role of the producer.
And when I heard her sing one note, I knew that she was as much as we
have left of that which we love dearly in Maurice Chevalier. And “Folies
Bergère” is something that happened on the table cloth of – it’s true – of
the Century Café. I was sitting there thinking about the scene and I said,
well gee, she’s a French producer, why shouldn’t she say, “Contini, I


thought you were going to make a musical movie, make me something like
Folies Bergère, give me singing!” And I wrote “Folies Bergère.”
“FOLIES BERGÈRE” (Liliana Montevecchi)

AD BREAK 15:59:12
This is ANYTHING GOES with Paul Lazarus. My guest today is composer-lyricist
Maury Yeston.
Paul: How did you write the song about Saint Sebastian’s, which is about
Catholic guilt, learned?
Yeston: That’s really interesting, so many people have come up to me over
the years and said, “how did you boil down the quintessence of that awful
experience I had at Catholic parochial school – and yet, how inspiring it
was, the wonderful thing, the stained glass, the Bach chorales – how did
you do that? What Catholic parochial school did you go to?” Now I went to
a Yeshiva in Northern New Jersey, but I based the song completely on my
experiences going to the Yeshiva. It’s really true that all parochial schools
are unhappy in the same way.
Paul: It’s a transferrable experience.
Yeston: Absolutely, absolutely.


Paul: Tell me about that fabulous new singing ensemble, the Maury
Tabernacle Choir.
Yeston: The Maury Tabernacle Choir. Well, when you’re alone with your
little TEAC, it’s difficult sometimes to ask people to conceive of a counter


point. And very often we conceive musical numbers that require things like
counter melody, that require the sound of massed voices, and what with
the technology of home taping these days, very often when I do write a
number that involves multiple voices, I simply take myself and I sing all the
parts myself. My family calls it the Maury Tabernacle Choir and y’know, to
do “The Germans At The Spa,” I simply sing all the parts of “The

Germans At The Spa.” Generally at break-neck speed, four times faster than
it will appear in any show.

Maury Yeston’s song-writing career isn’t just confined to the theater.
Paul: Do you write a lot of pop songs?
Yeston: Yeah, I write every day in many areas and absolutely so. I love the
medium of song. I think songs are the hardest things to do because you
don’t have the resources of an eighty piece orchestra, you have a single
melodic line that has to float and a single sentiment that has to be
expressed and come to some sort of closure or conclusiveness. And it has
to be in a way familiar, and in a way fresh.
Paul: How did “Danglin’” come to be written?
Yeston: It’s not a personal song. I didn’t write it for anyone. I think I was
toying at the piano one day and I played the opening piano figure. And the
song just happened.

“DANGLIN’” (David Lucas)

Yeston: I think I know why I write songs. I think that there are things in life
that you just can’t change, and that you just can’t control, but you can go


into a little room and construct your own little world which you can
possibly shape, change, control, and try to make it perfect. And a song is
like that. I think that’s why we do crossword puzzles, that’s why we make
perfect little constructions, why we make model airplanes. It’s because it’s
a small thing that we can put together, and we can control, and watch it
run, and make it work the way you want it to work, and I can try to make
perfect in song what perhaps what I can’t make perfect in life.

“UNUSUAL WAY” (Shelly Burch)

You’ve been listening to composer-lyricist Maury Yeston. Sound mixing by David
Rapkin. Associate producer Jeff Lunden. Anything Goes – Backstage with
Broadway’s Best – is produced and hosted by Paul Lazarus. For more information
and bonus materials visit anythinggoespl.com. If you enjoyed this episode, be sure
to rate and follow us. Thanks for listening.

Maury Yeston, composer-lyricist of the Tony-winning musical NINE, talks about his score for the adaptation of Federico Fellini’s film, “8 1/2.” Yeston also discusses his incidental score and song for the original production of “Cloud Nine” Off- Broadway as well as some of the pop songs he has written. Recalling the Broadway production of Nine, he explains writing music for the large, predominantly female cast. The “Maury Tabernacle Choir” featuring Yeston on all the parts performs “The Germans at the Spa.”

Featured songs: “Overture from NINE,” “Nine,” “Cloud Nine Rock Version,” “Guido’s Song,” “Folies Bergère,” “The Bells of St. Sebastian,” “Danglin’,” and “Unusual Way.”

Originally produced and broadcast in 1986. For more information go to AnythingGoesPL.com or BPN.FM/AnythingGoes. Theme music arranged by Bruce Coughlin. Sound mixing by David Rapkin. Associate producer Jeff Lunden. Anything Goes – Backstage with Broadway’s Best – is produced and hosted by Paul Lazarus.


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