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The song never stopped

Trio's collaboration is at 34 years and counting

June 16, 2012|Susan King
  • Robert Klein,left, Lucie Arnaz, right, and Marvin Hamlisch, center, pose for a portrait at the Langham Huntington in Pasadena on June 14, 2012.
Robert Klein,left, Lucie Arnaz, right, and Marvin Hamlisch, center, pose… (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles…)

It's been 34 years since actress Lucie Arnaz, comedian Robert Klein and composer Marvin Hamlisch came together to do "They're Playing Our Song." The lighthearted musical comedy opened in December 1978 at the Ahmanson Theatre and went to Broadway in February 1979, where it played for 1,082 performances. Penned by Neil Simon, the essentially two-character play revolved around the working and personal relationship between a neurotic, funny composer and a quirky lyricist. The musical play was inspired by the romantic relationship between Hamlisch and lyricist Carole Bayer Sager.

And all these years later they are still playing these songs. For several years, Arnaz, Klein and Hamlisch have been performing pop concerts around the country featuring Hamlisch conducting several of his songs, Klein doing stand-up and comedy songs, Arnaz performing songs from her nightclub act and then Klein and Arnaz reuniting for a mini-concert version of "They're Playing Our Song."

On Saturday, Arnaz and Klein will join Hamlisch to open his second season as principal conductor of the Pasadena Pops and the orchestra's inaugural season at the L.A. Arboretum. Before convening in Los Angeles, the trio talked in separate phone interviews about their upcoming performance.

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Marvin, was it your idea to do these concerts together?

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday, June 21, 2012 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 49 words Type of Material: Correction
"They're Playing Our Song": A photo caption with an article in the June 16 Calendar section about the long collaboration of actress Lucie Arnaz, comedian Robert Klein and composer Marvin Hamlisch referred to the musical they worked on together as "Their Playing Our Song." It's "They're Playing Our Song."

Marvin Hamlisch: It might have been my idea. I know that separately I wanted to get Lucie for a [concert] and all of a sudden the idea popped into my head that it would be fun to put them together. What is so amazing about it is that they are so good at it. It is just as if time stood still. Rehearsing with Robert Klein is like going to a comedy club. You are just laughing all the time.

Lucie Arnaz: The show still works for us. It is still meaningful. The relationship makes sense.

Robert Klein: We actually did a private concert for Neil Simon about four years ago. He had this wild idea to maybe revive and change some of the lines and modernize it. I think it's a product of its time. It's very popular in colleges and dinner theater. I can't tell you how many times I hear, "I played your role at Brown University." But on Broadway ... it is sort of disco-y. But I do remember how people loved it. I was nominated for a Tony. I didn't win. I didn't have a chance. There was "Sweeney Todd" that year.

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Lucie, you were best known for appearing with your mother, Lucille Ball, and your brother, Desi Arnaz Jr., on the sitcom "Here's Lucy." But you weren't a well-known musical comedy figure. How did you get the part? Did you audition?

L.A.: Yeah. I was the first person, apparently, they saw. I remember when I finished auditioning, Neil came up and took my hands in his and kissed them and said, "You are such a breath of fresh air." I didn't know what that meant. I just thanked him. I didn't hear from anybody for a couple of months. They went and auditioned everybody else. I got a call they were doing a callback and Marvin wanted to hear me sing one more time. I was terrified, but Marvin came up to me just before the audition and said, "Don't change anything; just sing again."

R.K.: I read for them and sang for them at the Pantages. It was one of the great memorable days of my life. Truth be told, I think they had in mind John Rubinstein and they couldn't get together [with him]. I read for them and that was it.

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I saw the show twice at the Ahmanson and you both had an amazing chemistry together. Did you sense that the first time you met?

L.A.: Oh, God, yes. It was kind of that magical stuff, not just with Robert but the whole company. So much so that Neil Simon offered to sell me two points of the show that belonged to him -- which he had never done before -- to satisfy the discrepancy in what they were going to pay Robert and what they were going to pay me.

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There was a discrepancy because Robert was more established?

L.A.: I was just starting out [on stage]. I was so happy [I bought] the points. I still get little checks in the mail.

R.K.: I met Lucie on West End Avenue. She was wearing a tie-dyed something, hippy print. We worked very well together and whatever little things were not smooth, were smoothed over. We always kept in touch and I think in many ways are better friends now. She used to fuss at me about this dance step or that dance step and gave me a note. I said [to her], "It's my fifth Broadway show and your first!"

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Marvin, did you feel like "They're Playing Our Song"was going to click when you first saw Lucie and Robert in rehearsals?

M.H.: You know, they were wonderful together. I never can really tell you what something is going to be like. When you write something you have lost your objectivity right off the bat. I thought it was going to be very commercial and would do very well. I remember when we started working on it, I kept laughing and thinking it was really funny. The one thing I liked about "They're Playing Our Song" is that we were just trying to do a really fun, nice evening with no pretentiousness.

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susan.king@latimes.com

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Pasadena Pops

What: "They're Playing Our Song" with Lucie Arnaz and Robert Klein

Where: L.A. Arboretum, 301 N. Baldwin Ave., Arcadia

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday

Tickets: $10-$96

Information: (626) 793-7172 or www.pasadenasymphony-ops.org

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