Filichia Features: Remembering Martin Charnin

Filichia Features: Remembering Martin Charnin

How sad that Martin Charnin has died.

I became a fan in 1968 after a backers' audition of Ballad for a Firing Squad, a reworking of his Mata Hari. Get the 2001 studio cast album and you'll see why.

This was nearly nine years before Annie, which sported his direction and lyrics. In the meantime, he'd appreciated my enthusiasm for his work while many others didn't.

In 1978, I was asked to write a song for a party that would honor him. I set my lyric to "Why Me?" a song he'd written to a Richard Rodgers melody.

It opens their 1970 musical Two by Two. Noah wonders "Why me?" when God could have chosen so many others to build an ark.

I used "Why Me?" in a different context:

Marty first wrote the lyrics for Hot Spot

People said, "What a hit that'll be!"

But it closed right away

Leaving Marty to say,

"Why me? Why me? Why me?"

Hot Spot was a 1963 Judy Holliday musical about the Peace Corps. The show went through nine directors (according to supporting player Sheila Smith), and despite Mary Rodgers' fine music, closed after 43 performances.

Marty next wrote some lyrics for Zenda

Broadway opening: Late '63!

But it closed out-of-town

Leaving Marty to frown,

"Why me? Why me? Why me?"

This The Prisoner of Zenda musical had music by the esteemed Vernon Duke. Even with Alfred Drake and Chita Rivera starring, it couldn't make it to Broadway.

Charnin indeed wrote "some lyrics" as two unknown wordsmiths provided others.

Marty's next one was called Mata Hari

Starring what was her name? Something Mell.

We forget, though we'll always remember

That the dame didn't die when she fell.

On opening night in Washington, Marisa Mell's Mata Hari didn't stay dead after she'd been shot by a firing squad; she scratched her nose. This one couldn't make it to Broadway, either.

Danny Kaye, Two by Two quickly followed

Did all right -- 'till the star hurt his knee

Danny improvised words

(Treated Marty's like turds)

"Why me, dear God, why me?"


Two by Two had a big advance sale, thanks to Kaye's Broadway return. But after he was injured, he started improvising, straying far from the text even to the point where he mentioned No, No, Nanette (in umpteen-thousand B.C.).

Despite all the setbacks, the guy stays alive

Not once through it all does he work 9-to-5

He's winning some Emmys

Charnin won two in 1972 for 'S Wonderful, 'S Marvelous, 'S Gershwin after having won one in 1970 for an Anne Bancroft special called (note the first word) Annie, the Women in the Life of a Man.

He's buying nice clothes

But still, he's obsessing about Broadway shows.


Then fin'lly, one orphan girl catches his eye

He tells Messrs. Meehan and Strouse, "It'll fly!

With little girls, Christmas, a dog and a car

We'll get us a moppet and make her a star.

The men at the theater will change the marquee

A-L-V-I-N to A-N-N-I-E!"


After Annie had opened at the Alvin (now the Neil Simon), the vertical sign lost the "L" and "V," had its "N" repositioned and added an "N" and "E." That ANNIE stayed up there for years.

The "Messrs." were bookwriter Tom Meehan and composer Charles Strouse. Meehan had never written a libretto before, but Charnin told him he could do it. Indeed, he could -- for 10 other musicals, too.


June of '77, the Tonys

Marty's there, as is each nominee

Is our lyricist floored

When he gets the award!

"For me? For me? For me!"

My song came at the right time; Charnin never had another Broadway hit. Still, as Orson Welles said, "You only need one" - and Charnin certainly got that one.

Annie became an industry. People became talent agents who specialized in finding worthy little girls (and made a fine living from it).

Charnin was generous in mentoring writers and giving them chances to be heard (especially in his excellent 1982 revue Upstairs at O'Neals ).

And he was good to me.

Many times when he introduced me to others, he gave me credit for giving him the idea that a song called "All Dolled Up" would be a welcome addition to Annie Warbucks. I suspect he had that in mind when he wrote the liner notes for Incurably Romantic, his 1997 album of his lesser-known songs and stated that the obscurities were "for the Filichia-philes."

I'll always be proud to be a Charnin-phile.

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