Steven Cagan, a conductor, composer, songwriter and musician who worked in film, TV, theater and on records, died Feb. 1, on his 77th birthday. Family members that were by his side as he passed on announced the cause of death as the effects of COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).
Cagan’s credits ranged from writing, arranging and/or conducting for divas such as Melissa Manchester, Bette Midler and Olivia Newton-John to working with theatrical giants like Michael Bennett and Lester Wilson, to writing jingles or acting as guest conductor on Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show.”
Cagan was also the musical director for the first national company of “Dreamgirls,” with Jennifer Holliday.
His early choral works and theater pieces were performed at the New College at Hofstra University, where he received his classical training. Some of his student works were performed by his classmate, the late theater and film great Madeline Kahn. He attended the University of Buffalo, where he studied composition with Elie Seigmeister, David Diamond, Lukas Foss and George Rochberg.
Cagan was on staff at one of the busiest commercial music companies on Madison Avenue, Marc Brown Music, where he wrote and arranged TV and radio jingles for Chevrolet, Ford, State Farm Insurance, Coppertone and others. At the same time he was involved in advertising, he composed ballet scores for Tony-winning choreographer/director Lynne Taylor-Corbett’s Theatre Dance Collection.
An early movie assignment was as the arranger and orchestrator for Woody Allen’s “Take the Money and Run,” with that movie’s composer, Marvin Hamlisch, becoming a lifelong friend. Later he wrote a score of his own for 1979’s horror film “The Cat and the Canary.” He scored TV series and specials for performers including Spinal Tap, Robert Klein, Michael Keaton, Lainie Kazan, and Rob Reiner.
Olivia Newton-John recorded his “I Will Touch You” for her 1972 sophomore album, “Olivia.” For a 1979 Sesame Street album featuring Dinah Shore, he composed “Dinah! I’ve Got a Song.” Melissa Manchester was his sister-in-law, and she cut his “Such A Morning” on her hit 1978 album, “Don’t Cry Out Loud.”
A choral work, “Benediction,” premiered with the Hollywood Master Chorale. He collaborated with the late Michel LeGrand on an unreleased project, “Remember.”
He appeared as guest musical director on “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson” numerous times. In 1991, Cagan and Diahann Carroll returned to the stage together as she performed his original song “Sing Hallelujah!” on “The Arsenio Hall Show.”
At various points Cagan guest-conducted the Atlanta, San Francisco, Dallas and Honolulu Symphony Orchestras, the Ravinia Festival Orchestra, the Houston Pops and others.
In 1999, Cagan created an original theatrical piece, “Love Songs — A Musical,” following the journey of six friends and colleagues through the vagaries of love and marriage. In one of its earliest productions in 2001, the show won the Festival of New Works competition at the University of Michigan, at which point it starred a student who has since become a Broadway star Sondheim alum and Tony winner, Alex Gemignani. The “Scenes from a Musical” cabaret version of the show was created at the request of Michael Feinstein for his Feinstein’s at Loews Regency in New York, directed by Lynne Taylor-Corbett and sung by a cast of Broadway stars, including Debbie Gravitte, Kevin Spirtas and Bryce Ryness. A production was mounted at the Chromolume Theatre in Los Angeles, directed by Broadway legend Kay Cole.
He is survived by his wife, Claudia, twin daughters Emily and Amanda, his twin sister Susan Lundt (Rudy), his brother Alan Cagan (Sylvia), and nieces and nephews.
In accordance with his final wishes, there were no services. His family encourages everyone to remember him by visiting his website, www.lovesongs-amusical.com.