NEW YORK — Cy Coleman, composer of the musicals “City of Angels” and “Sweet Charity,” died of heart failure Friday. He was 75.
Coleman attended the Broadway premiere of Michael Frayn’s play “Democracy” on Thursday. After the post-perf party at Tavern on the Green, he told friends he was not feeling well and took a taxi to New York Hospital.
Born Seymour Kaufman in New York City, Coleman was the son of a Russian carpenter. He began playing the piano at age 4, and three years later was invited to perform at Carnegie Hall.
“It was a strange life,” he said of his years as a prodigy. “I was sleeping on a couch in the Bronx and playing parties at One Sutton Place.” At 16, he wrote his first song, “The Rivera,” and soon afterward formed the Cy Coleman Trio, which performed in the short-lived Broadway play “Dear Barbarians” in 1952, and in jazz clubs around the country.
His experience with the trio came to define his sophisticated, swinging, hip musical style. Later, he met the lyricist Carolyn Leigh, and together they collaborated on such songs as “Witchcraft” and “The Best Is Yet to Come.”
Their first Broadway success came in 1960 with the Lucille Ball starrer “Wildcat,” which featured the song “Hey, Look Me Over.” Other shows followed in quick succession, including “Little Me,” “Seesaw,” “Sweet Charity,” “I Love My Wife,” “On the Twentieth Century,” “Will Rogers Follies” and “City of Angels,” as well as two shows that he also produced, “Barnum” and “The Life.”
Teamed with the best
On these projects, his collaborators read like a Who’s Who of Broadway: In addition to Leigh, they included Dorothy Fields, Michael Stewart, Betty Comden, Adolph Green, Bob Fosse and Neil Simon.
Coleman had few flops, “Welcome to the Club” in 1989 being the most notable. However, he never stopped working on new shows. “There’s still the sheen and glamour of Broadway,” he said. “Despite all the problems, people still like to invest in Broadway.”
Coleman’s recent tuner, “Like Jazz,” written with Marilyn and Alan Bergman and Larry Gelbart, opened last season at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles.
He found the movies a little less fascinating. “When I score a film, you come in at the end,” he said. “Everybody’s gone home and they’ve had all the fun. It’s different on Broadway.” His film credits include “Father Goose” and “Garbo Talks.”
Coleman always worked on several shows simultaneously. If one failed, he admitted he would “steal” from himself and recycle the material. “I like to work on many projects at once. One feeds the other,” he said.
At the time of his death, Coleman had several works nearing production, including “N,” about Napoleon Bonaparte; “Pamela’s First Musical,” based on Wendy Wasserstein’s children’s book; and “Grace,” based on the life of Grace Kelly.
A Broadway revival of “Sweet Charity” is skedded for April. Coleman was musical supervisor on that production, and added two songs that had been cut from an early incarnation of the musical.
Coleman is survived by his wife, Shelby, and his daughter, Lily Cye.