When Shelly Burch steps onto the stage of The Emelin Theatre in Mamaroneck on the night of June 3, performing her one-woman entertainment, she’ll bring a wealth of experience with her. She has unseen but necessary collaborators with which every performer has to work during the course of a career. Shelly’s adventures in acting began with hard work and discipline, early essentials in an entertainer’s life.
A singer needs talent, obviously. But there are other requirements that have to be honed at a young age. There is a great deal of merit attached to the ability to hit a high note or cry on demand, but singing songs and understanding the meaning of a lyric requires so much more.
Throughout the past 35 years, I’ve had the privilege of working with many youngsters in a musical that I created, for which I wrote the lyrics, and directed in 1977. In its original incarnation, it ran on Broadway for 2,377 performances. At the time of its closing, it was the eighth longest-running musical in Broadway history. In recent decades, it has been translated into 28 languages, and it is currently the most performed musical in middle schools, high schools, colleges, regional theaters, summer stock theaters, and professional companies. Even now, a revival is making many people happy on Broadway as its older and younger actors sing “It’s The Hard Knock Life.” Meanwhile, the one redhead in the company assures her newly found dog, the U.S. president, and The Palace Theatre audiences that “the sun will come out tomorrow.”
The musical is Annie, and it’s one of the 125 theatrical productions in which I’ve been involved since 1957. Further, I’m the producer and director of Shelly’s show at The Emelin, marking one of the rare occasions where I work with a single individual as opposed to a company of actors.
I love being in the theater. Truth be told, since I saw my first play in the 1950s, the love affair gets renewed with every new project I undertake. I’ve had the pleasure of working with many giants in the entertainment industry and have derived enormous satisfaction hearing my songs interpreted by the likes of Barbra Streisand, Tony Bennett, Johnny Mathis, Dorothy Loudon, Anthony Warlow, Joel Grey, Fred Astaire,
Jack Lemmon, Sarah Jessica Parker, Andrea McArdle, Lena Horne, Anne Bancroft and many more. I’ve written lyrics to the melodies of Richard Rodgers, Harold Arlen, Charles Strouse, Skitch Henderson, Vernon Duke and dozens of other composers. This catalogue of musical giants will be alive once again in the June 3 performance at The Emelin.
I believe that what I’ve gleaned from all of my collaborators has stuck to me like glue from the very moment that I began this journey in the theater. I also believe that children today have to be exposed, early and often, to as much live entertainment as the traffic or the pocketbook allows. Kids are like sponges and absorb the aesthetics of live entertainment quicker and with more enthusiasm than those of any video, or sporting experience. The theater fosters imagination, boosts literacy, and cultivates curiosity in ways that nothing else can.
At this moment in time, there is a cultural and artistic crisis in this country. Part of it can certainly be attributed to governmental cutbacks and deficiencies in funding. But a bigger blame is on the parent or guardian who settles too easily for the junk food that passes itself off as culture.
My hope is that grown ups and kids today will avail themselves of all of the wonders of the theater whenever they can, and one sure way is to come and hear my wife, Shelly Burch, at the Emelin Theatre on June 3.