What’s What With … Marvin Hamlisch

So what brings you to the Philadelphia area this weekend?
Probably a car.

Funny. Let’s try this again. You’re performing, of course, at the Lenape Regional Performing Arts Center on Saturday. What can people expect?
The first half, I’m going to be doing music from — well, my thing is Chorus Line, The Way We Were — and we’re bringing in a wonderful singer by the name of Mark McVey, who used to be the star of Les Miserables. He’s going to be doing some things by Richard Rodgers. And then the second act is all gonna be Christmas songs. So it’s a combination of Hamlisch and Christmas.

I read in the almighty Wikipedia that you were originally on track to be a concert pianist, but that you had stage-fright issues. Is that right?
Yeah. That’s pretty good. But I think the "track" was more in my father’s mind than in any other mind. I don’t think I ever got close to the track. The point was that I went to the Julliard School of Music as a youngster and showed a lot of talent. Though the idea would have been to become the next Horowitz, I was sure, very early on, that I was not gonna be the next Horowitz for a lot of reasons. Number one, I didn’t think I had quite that talent. Number two, yes, I had a tremendous amount of stage fright playing other people’s music. And number three, it wasn’t really the love of my life. It wasn’t the thing I was passionate about. What I seemed to be passionate about was writing music, playing popular music; I was more in that world.

You’ve scored so many films, and at least according to what I’ve been reading, you haven’t scored a film since the the mid-’90s —
No. I just did one. It’s called The Informants, with Matt Damon. It’s directed by Steven Soderbergh. It will be in the movies … it will be out there in September.

Why the gap in scoring?
Well, I stopped because I was doing so many of these concerts and stuff. That was the main reason, and I got back in because I don’t think you could possibly — I think you’d have to be a nitwit to say no to Steven Soderbergh.

You have, of course, composed some incredible, well-known scores for movies — The Sting and The Way We Were come to mind. But are there any movies that wish you hadn’t done? Like the ’80s sci-fi flick D.A.R.Y.L.? Or, perhaps, TV movies like Women and Men: Stories of Seduction or The Return of the Six-Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman? Are there any that you are embarrassed about?
If you have to have the standard that they all have to be The Way We Were, they all have to be The Sting, they all have to be A Chorus Line, you’ll probably write five things in your life. I’m more of a workhorse.

You’re one of only two people in history to have won an Emmy, an Oscar, a Tony, and a Pulitzer Prize [Note: the other is Richard Rodgers]. And, so I’m wondering, what challenges you? It seems like you’ve done everything.
What challenges you, I think, at this point, is just to keep doing and get some good stuff going, and I’m hoping to write a ballet score. That’s the thing that’s on my mind. Actually the thing that’s really on my mind is my vacation, but that’s a whole other story.

I hate to admit it, but I’m a fan of karaoke and find myself in karaoke bars once and awhile, and one of the songs people really like to bastardize is "The Way We Were," and there’s also that great scene in Naked Gun, the shower scene, where they’re singing the song …
Yes, I love it.

And there’s always your version of "The Entertainer" on ring tones. Do you get tired of it? Are they overplayed to you?
No, I don’t care. It’s really weird, because people think for some reason that… there must be some composers who really do care about that kind of stuff or get very upset if they play something wrong. I don’t know, to me, once I put it out to the world, it’s the world’s. And I’m just happy they’re playing it, ya know? It’s never bothered me, and I’m being very honest with you. They can screw up the melody, they can screw it all up … it’s fine. The thing is, if something has become iconic enough that someone wants to screw it up, I figure it’s done pretty well.