An Evening for Richard Adler, late UNC alumnus and musical theater legend

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An Evening for Richard Adler
Monday, Nov. 5
UNC’s Hill Hall

Crowds gathered early last week to celebrate the legacy of UNC alumnus Richard Adler, class of 1943. Adler, who died this past summer, was a prominent figure in musical theater of the 1950s, best known for The Pajama Game and Damn Yankees. Theater geeks will remember him for his (and partner Jerry Ross’) drive to relates stories about issues of the day; masses will know him for songs like “Steam Heat” and “Whatever Lola Wants.”

Students and faculty alike contributed to this night of performances. The rotating cast performed songs from across Adler’s career and featured two short lecture breaks from musicologist Tim Carter. Chancellor Holden Thorp, who initially suggested organizing the event, was on hand to welcome attendees; he contributed his skills as an accompanist later in the night.

The real stars of the night were the company of UNC students who performed songs from Adler’s catalog. Highlights included Todd Lewis’ rendition of “I May Be Wrong but I think You’re Wonderful” from John Murray Anderson’s Almanac and Emily Spokas and company’s take on “Hernando’s Hideaway” from The Pajama Game. Other acts keyed on a terrific sense of comic timing (a nod to Mason Cordell and Nathanial Claridad’s “I’ll Never Be Jealous Again” from The Pajama Game) and choreography (a great ensemble ender from Paige Burhans and company performing “Six Months out of Every Year”).

Each piece offered a glimpse at the talents brewing in the music and dramatic arts programs at UNC, but they also provided time to reflect on how far the musical has come—for better or worse. Adler’s original songs are a refreshing flashback from our era of jukebox musicals and commercial gimmicks. At the same time, the tunes sported an old-fashioned flare, veering from jazzy swing to operatic high note in an eight count.

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