Honoring a Music Man’s Life

Broadway greats past and present recall Cy Coleman, a native son of New York stages

Cy Coleman did not intend to die. He probably intended never to die. Certainly his music is never going to die. Just for one creation that has rung in my own ears for 23 years now, since I first saw “Little Me,” da-da-da-dahh, da-da-da-da-da-daah — or, in Carolyn Leigh’s words, “Pardon me, miss / but I’ve never done this / with a real-live girl … ”

Well, composer Coleman, full of life and works and plans, did, most grievously, die, at a statistical but ridiculous 75, on November 19 of last year, fully intending to be part and parcel of the 92nd Street Y’s gala benefit in his honor this past Monday night. Carrying on for and with him was a house full of Broadway greats, including Lucie Arnaz, who sang “The Best of Everything”; James Naughton, who sang “You’re Nothing Without Me” and, with Stephen Bogardus, “Hey There, Good Times”; Chita Rivera, who sang the “Sweet Charity” song “Where Am I Going?”; and Elaine Stritch, who overcame a sore throat to sing the exquisite “It Amazes Me.”

Cy Coleman’s young wife, Shelby Brown Coleman, spoke movingly of the role of the 92nd Street Y in her husband’s life, starting when he was a kid in New York, and in the life of herself and their 5-year-old daughter Lillie Cye. “Sweet Charity” is very much in the news right now, thanks to the pre-opening foot injury suffered by Christina Applegate in the role made famous by Gwen Verdon, but this theatergoer’s own favorite (more recent) Cy Coleman shows were the hardboiled, sophisticated “City of Angels,” a tough-minded parody of the movie business, and “The Life,” which was an equally tough-minded look at, well, the life of hookers and others on and around 42nd Street before Mr. Giuliani and Mickey Mouse and other do-gooders reduced it to a brain-dead tourist trap. Not a locale for Mr. Coleman, thank you. Cy, you amaze me. Always did. Always will.

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