Arts » Pop Music & Jazz

Remembering Hamlisch and the way he was

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Lyricists Marilyn and Alan Bergman will be on hand to share stories at Sunday’s tribute to Marvin Hamlisch in San Francisco. - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • Lyricists Marilyn and Alan Bergman will be on hand to share stories at Sunday’s tribute to Marvin Hamlisch in San Francisco.

Back in 2010, there was nothing misty or water-colored about Marvin Hamlisch striding to the intimate stage of the Venetian Room to rechristen the venerable performance space, and to establish the residency there of Marilyn Levinson’s Bay Area Cabaret series.

A large, physical presence, the composer of “A Chorus Line” was affable, funny, charmingly pragmatic and self-deprecating, and clearly passionate about sharing his music. His unexpected death less than a year ago saddened the entertainment industry.

San Francisco will celebrate the legacy of the composer, maestro and entertainer with a concert Sunday featuring Billy Stritch, Lisa Vroman, Karen Mason, Bobby Conte Thornton and two of Hamlisch’s greatest collaborators: Marilyn and Alan Bergman.

“Working with Marvin was fun,” Alan Bergman says. “It was like playing in a big sandbox. He was full of ideas and amazingly facile at the piano, executing things almost as fast as they popped into his head.”

In more than a half-century of musical collaborating, Bergman and his wife have put their words to the cream of a crop of popular composers — Michel Legrand, Dave Grusin, Henry Mancini — but they returned time and time again to work with Hamlisch.

In addition to the Oscar-winning “The Way We Were,” the trio created songs and scores for films including “Same Time, Next Year” and “Shirley Valentine,” crafted Emmy-honored songs for television and regularly collaborated on theater, concert and recording projects, including several with Barbra Streisand.

“Marvin was the most theatrical,” Bergman says of their many collaborators. “As you know, he had great experience in the theater, like it was his home, and the music he wrote had a dimension of theatricality. I can’t explain that. It’s something that’s abstract, but it’s there.”

Bergman, 87, was stunned at the loss of his colleague, who would have been 69 on Sunday.

“We had seen him two weeks before at a concert in Pasadena that he conducted,” he says. “Oddly enough, the last song that we heard him play was a two-piano version of ‘The Way We Were.’ We saw him afterwards. He was in a wheelchair.  He was, well, I don’t know, sanguine about the situation.”

However, the memory most firmly lodged in the corner of Bergman’s mind is one of enthusiasm.

“Marvin was filled with energy — social, musical — and he communicated it to everybody,” Bergman recalls. “He always had a music story or a joke to get over the rough spots in the work. We loved working with him.”

IF YOU GO

A Gala Birthday Tribute to Marvin Hamlisch

  • Where: Venetian Room, Fairmont Hotel, 950 Mason St., S.F.
  • When: 7:30 p.m. Sunday
  • Tickets: $75 to $100
  • Contact: (415) 392-4400, www.bayareacabaret.org