Company Book Writer George Furth Dies, Aged 75Date: 13 August 2008
Stephen Sondheim collaborator George Furth, the Tony Award-winning book writer of Company and Merrily We Roll Along, has died on Monday (11 August 2008) in Santa Monica, CA, where he’d recently been admitted to hospital when suffering from a lung infection.
Born George Schweinfurth on 14 December 1932 in Chicago, Illinois, Furth studied drama and theatre at Northwestern University and then got his masters degree at Columbia University in New York City. He worked for many years as a stage and screen actor – with film credits including Blazing Saddles, Myra Breckinridge, The Cannoncball Run and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid - before starting to write plays.
It was the beginning of a series of one-act playlets that he took to Stephen Sondheim that the composer/lyricist then took director Harold Prince that eventually turned into Company. The landmark 1970 musical – which follows the perennially single Bobby through a series of dating vignettes and possible partners, all while examining the relationships of his married friends – ran for nearly two years in its original Broadway incarnation and won six Tony Awards, including Best Musical and, for Furth, Best Book. It transferred to the West End’s Her Majesty’s Theatre, with original Broadway star Elaine Stritch, in 1972.
In 1981, Furth reunited with Sondheim in the – initially – less successful Merrily We Roll Along, based on a 1934 play by George S Kaufman and Moss Hart. The musical, which tells the story of a celebrated songwriter and his friend in reverse chronological order, closed on Broadway less than two weeks after being savaged by critics. Since then, it has been reclaimed as a classic.
Following its London premiere at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in 1983, Merrily We Roll Along received a high-profile regional outing, starring Maria Friedman, at the Leicester Haymarket in 1992. It had its West End premiere in 2000 at the Donmar Warehouse (See News, 11 Dec 2000), where Michael Grandage directed and Daniel Evans, Samantha Spiro and Julian Ovenden starred. The production went on to win three Laurence Olivier Awards, including Best New Musical.
Furth’s third collaboration with Sondheim was the 1996 comedy thriller Getting Away With Murder (unusually for Sondheim, not a musical). He also wrote the book for the 1977 Kander and Ebb musical The Act, which starred Liza Minnelli on Broadway, and penned numerous straight plays including Twigs, Precious Sons and The Supporting Cast.
- by Terri Paddock