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Passings : Peter Howard

Broadway dance music arranger

May 09, 2008|From Times Staff and Wire Services

Peter Howard, 80, who arranged the dance music for many of Broadway's greatest hits over the last half-century, died April 18 of pneumonia at the Lillian Booth Actors' Home in Englewood, N.J.

From 1949 to 2000, Howard was involved in 38 Broadway shows. Sometimes he composed the incidental music or conducted the orchestra.

But Howard made his greatest mark in the 23 shows for which he arranged dance music. Those shows included such hits as "1776," "Chicago," "Annie," "The Roar of the Greasepaint -- The Smell of the Crowd," "The Tap Dance Kid," "Carnival" and "Hello, Dolly!"

A dance music arranger is "the unsung hero of a Broadway show, and Peter was the greatest dance arranger," Tony Award-winning director and choreographer Susan Stroman told the New York Times.

"A composer writes 32 bars of a song -- for example, Gershwin's 'I Got Rhythm' -- and Peter turns it into a 12-minute dance arrangement," Stroman said. "He understood style, entertainment value, when the characters were in love, when they were supposed to have a comic or a dramatic moment and, most of all, how to support the choreography with the music."

Born Howard Weiss in Miami on July 29, 1927, Howard changed his name in the late 1940s at the start of his Broadway career, the New York Times reported. He graduated from the Juilliard School and earned a bachelor's degree at Columbia University.

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