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Musical Titans Give Papers to NY Public Library

Between them, they created some of the most successful, storied musicals in theatre history—from "Fiorello!," "She Loves Me," and "Fiddler on the Roof" to "Cabaret," "Chicago," and "Kiss of the Spider Woman." Taken together, the assorted scribblings, scrawlings, and notes of composer Jerry Bock and lyricist Sheldon Harnick, and composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb, represent a tremendous resource for historians, researchers, and actors alike.

Now, all four theatrical giants have announced donations of their "collections" to the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.

The gifts were announced at a press conference held Tues., June 15, at the library's Bruno Walter Auditorium. Producer-director Harold Prince—whose career has, more than once, intersected with all four of the artists—headlined the event, which was followed by a brief panel discussion and assorted performances.

The Bock and Harnick collection, totaling 35 boxes of materials, includes drafts of melodies and lyrics written on hotel stationery, various typescripts, autographed manuscripts, spiral notebooks, torn corners with notes jotted on them, plot outlines, telegrams, programs, fan mail, and what the library called "correspondence concerning creative glitches." For musical theatre historians in particular, there is also a real prize: "trunk songs," including 16 tunes that were written for "Fiddler on the Roof" but that failed to make the final cut.

On top of their seven musical collaborations, Bock and Harnick have also worked with other collaborators—Harnick, for example, teamed with Richard Rodgers on the short-lived 1976 musical "Rex." Materials from all these endeavors are also included in the gift to the library.

By comparison, the Kander and Ebb collection will initially be smaller—containing original lyric sheets, music manuscripts, and, according to the library, "a quote on the price of a gorilla suit in 1966"—relating only to the musical "Cabaret." All the materials pertaining to their other shows will come later on as a bequest.

Even so, the "Cabaret" collection is a vast one, including books containing drafts and sketches, musical copyist transparencies, original holographs, lyric sheets, letters, legal contracts, and production and rehearsal scripts showing revisions, rewrites, and assorted notes given by the production's original director, Harold Prince. As in the Bock and Harnick collection, there are also unused "trunk" songs from the show as well.

The donation of papers from Bock, Harnick, Kander, and Ebb substantially increases the dimensions of a collection that is already quite sizeable. Previously, Richard Rodgers, Frank Loesser, E.Y. "Yip" Harburg, Jerome Robbins, and Prince himself had all made similar donations. The collection is open to the public, although some restrictions on the availability and use of the materials may apply.

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