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Music for the Stage

One thing that might interest many of Earle Hagen's fans is that he wrote the music for a Broadway show.  Just what happened  to the play with music, “The Love  Offering,” is a fascinating tale.

Here, in his own words, Earle Hagen tells that  story . It begins in 1981 following Earle Hagen's successful heart surgery ….

"After the operation and recovery, (I was chipping and putting ten days after I got out of the hospital) I didn't feel like working for a few months. Then when I did, it was the off-season. Lou and I were having dinner one night with the (Ernie) Frankels, and talking about the lull in our work life. Ernie said he had an idea for a Broadway show. -Not a musical, but a drama, called “The Love Offering.”
“How about a drama with music?” he asked.

“Sounds good to me. What's it about?  He told me. -I liked it. We started.  

The story was about a young televangelist. More like Billy Graham than Jimmy Swaggart, this young, charismatic minister has gone from a congregation of three hundred to a TV audience of millions. He is trying to balance a wife, a cast and the crew of his TV ministry, when he is also being courted by political figures who know he can deliver the young people as well as the adult faithful. He begins to fold under the emotional riptides that tear at him.

Ernie blocked out song titles from the story; and I set out to write songs based on his titles. After getting some completed, we decided we would try to get Hal David to write the lyrics. Sam Weisbord, then President of the William Morris Agency, represented Ernie as he had formerly represented me. Sam set the appointment with Hal David; and Ernie and I hopped a plane to New York.

We had made reservations at the Helmsley Palace, but by the time the cab struggled through traffic, we were almost at curtain time for “Dreamgirls.” Weisbord had gotten us the William Morris house seats, so we dumped our bags in the hotel lobby, assured them we'd check in after the show, and headed to the theater. -Hated the show!

When we returned to the hotel, they were out of singles. So, they gave each of us a suite at the same rate. We each had two bedrooms, a living room, a dining room, a kitchen, and two bathrooms, four bathrobes and four pairs of slippers. -Not bad for a two-night stay!

Hal David was president of ASCAP at that time; and bright and early the next morning we headed for his office. After laying out the premise of the book and the intention of the score, he declined. He said the responsibilities of ASCAP were consuming, and he wasn't
prepared to make the cross-country trips necessary. We thanked him for the time, caught another show that night, and returned to L.A. the next morning.

In the interest of attracting a lyricist, we decided to record the numbers I had written so far. I booked a small studio in the valley, and called one of my favorite pianists, Mike Lang. Ernie and I were sitting in the booth while Mike ran the songs down. There was a piece of sheet music on the desk. I asked the mixer whose it was. He said some songwriter left it after making a demo. The lyric was dynamite.

We asked whether he could find the name of the writer. “Sure, I have it on the bill.” The writer's name was Jack Murphy. I gave him a call, and asked if he were interested in writing a musical with me. He said he was extremely interested, but he couldn't afford the time, because he was looking for a job. We decided to put him on salary so he could devote all of his time to the project. His lyrics were intelligent and wonderful. We had a winner!

The three of us worked our tails off for months; and when the show was finished, we decided to put together a cast, record the songs, and use them in our backers' auditions. I gathered a small group of players, and the LA. Jazz Choir, plus the singers in the show, all of whom were anxious to participate. The Jazz Choir consisted of six young men and six young girls.

After they recorded, they would switch parts and re-record over the first. They were professional in every respect. The end result was the recording of the complete show. We did the auditions with a mixture of both live and pre-recordings.

William Morris set us up with some heavy hitters; and with an  outstanding cast of singers doing the principal roles, and Mike Lang accompanying them on the piano, we did our show. Through the auditions, I got to meet some of the rudest people in show business.

I am reminded of a head of a music department who told my BMI class not to make their demo tapes too long: “Typically, I listen to tapes in my car driving home in traffic. If they don't grab me in the first ten seconds they're gone.”  I guess the same applies to a demo of a show.

We had a member of the Nederlander group who was so taken with “The Love Offering” that he called a meeting of the heads of the group, and brought them, with Mr. Nederlander, out to the San Fernando Valley to hear our backers' audition. While we were doing our thing, he was telling them how great he thought it was. That was tough for him to do, because while he was talking, one or the other of them was on the phone.

When we finished the audition, Mr. Nederlander said: “Nice show. Not the kind we put money into, but if you sell it and need a theater, call us and we'll see what we can do.”

It took us a while to get the message.  The people who made decisions about shows for Broadway really hated it. Any time you audition a work, it is a `work in progress.' If it has an idea and is good entertainment, it should be regarded as being in work. However, we didn't reach them in the first ten seconds.

The book was an unusual and interesting story. There were seventeen songs in the show. Most of them were quality songs, melodic and with good storylines, and meaningful lyrics. Looking back at it, we had too much music and too much book. One didn't complement the other. Either the music and lyrics told you what the book just said or the book told you what the song just said.

Regrettably, both engaged in other work, we gave up an opportunity to do a “workshop” version with a group from the Los Angeles Music Center. That might have set us on the path to making the changes “The Love Offering” needed.

Both the storyline and the songs are still viable. I believe if we were to pick up on it again today, Ernie would cut the book in half; and I'd do the same for the music. We would find the way to make one pick up and advance the story from the other.

-It probably won't happen.

(reprinted with the kind permission of the author from “Memoirs of A Famous Composer - Nobody Ever Heard Of”)

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Earle Hagen's musical influences have stretched back from his Big Band arranging days, through records, movies and TV right up to the present.  Read next about his work with young composers.

Ernest Frankel