When David Zippel was asked to create an evening for the 92nd Street Y’s popular Lyrics & Lyricists series, he immediately knew what he wanted to do: showcase both his considerable ouevre — which includes the Tony Award-winning score to City of Angels — as well as pay tribute to his favorite songwriters. The result, It Started With a Dream: David Zippel — Lyrics He Wrote, Lyrics He Wishes He Wrote, will play the Y February 21-23 — and it promises to be an exciting and tuneful two hours. And much of that excitement will come from the cast Zippel assembled, which includes Tony winners Debbie Gravitte and Lillias White, and Broadway stars Kate Baldwin, Kevin Earley, and Danny Gurwin, all of whom will be given numbers that show off their considerable strengths.
Picking what to spotlight from his own catalog of songs, Zippel says, was not as hard as he first imagined, especially after he had chosen the performers. “I knew the evening should lean towards my theater and film work, and not my pop songs,” says Zippel. “So I looked for songs that had great storytelling angles.” In addition to selections from City of Angels, there will be numbers from The Goodbye Girl, Hercules, and The Woman in White. Zippel also stresses that he wanted the evening to have different songs from such previous revues of his work as It’s Better With a Band or the evening he did for Lincoln Center’s American Songbook series. (He has also worked at the Y on numerous occasions.)
The trickier part of show, he notes, was incorporating the work of the people who influenced him, interspersing their songs with his own. “A lot of people don’t realize how jazz has been a huge influence to me as a lyricist, especially the work of Lambert, Hendricks & Ross,” he says. “I also love popular songwriters like Joni Mitchell and Laura Nyro. As for theater lyricists, Sheldon Harnick is always at the top of my list, because he’s such a fine craftsman and his songs have such personality. I admire Ira Gershwin and Alan Jay Lerner, and, of course, Stephen Sondheim is so important for anyone who likes words. And I haven’t forgotten Irving Berlin.”
Meanwhile, Zippel has been putting the show together while tending to a number of other upcoming projects. He’s still hoping for the first full regional production of Pamela’s First Musical, which he wrote with the late Cy Coleman and the late Wendy Wasserstein, who adapted her children’s book of the same name. (L&L audiences will hear some songs from the show, including the gorgeous “It Started With a Dream.”) “We did a presentation at the National Alliance of Musical Theatre Festival last fall and it generated a lot of interest, so now Graciela Daniele (the director) and I are working on a development plan,” he says. “Of course, it’s been challenging to continue on the project without Cy and Wendy, but the good news is because we were able to do two full workshops of the show before they passed away, it’s more a question of us editing and polishing the show than rewriting it.”
Zippel is also working on a revue of the music of Cy Coleman, entitled The Best Is Yet to Come, which has already been announced as part of San Francisco’s Broadway by the Bay 2009-2010 series, as well as a possible new collaboration with his City of Angels librettist Larry Gelbart. And when asked about the possibility of a revival of that Broadway hit, Zippel holds out hope for that show’s many fans. “It’s been in the forefront of my mind lately. I’m trying to figure out the best way to make it happen. We did a concert version in LA with the orchestra on stage and very simple visual production, and I think it worked fine,” he says. “I’ve learned there are lots of ways to skin a cat, as they say, and I do feel this is the right time to bring back the show.”