Zak Kuhn calls all theater lovers for another Rodgers & Hammerstein-centered episode. This time, the Zak Kuhn Show is joined by Bruce Pomahac, former musical director for the legendary Broadway company, now a musical consultant for Concord Theatrical.
The two talk about the 75th anniversary of the iconic show Annie Get Your Gun and all its different adaptations. They also discuss how to stay true to an original show while keeping in mind political correctness, Irving Berlin, and much more.
Although Pomahac worked for the Broadway business for years, it wasn’t until late in his career that he landed the dream role of musical director for Rodgers & Hammerstein.
“It’s something I say to young people who are trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives. I say, ‘Go forward and do the things that you love doing. Because the best job I’ve ever had wasn’t invented until I was 45 years old. There was no such thing as a musical director for Rodgers & Hammerstein until 1992. I think that’s something I like to tell young people. Because when you’re young you ask, ‘Where am I going to go? How am I going to fit in? How am I going to get there?’ Do what you love and that will lead you and someday the job is going to be there,” Pomahac says.
Because it was a job he loved, naturally, he was incredible at it. His knowledge of Broadway and its inner workings runs deep, so when Kuhn brought up the impact of Annie Get Your Gun, there were a lot of fascinating tidbits he had to say. Namely, how the show has remained a beloved staple of the theater community.
“Let’s begin with asking why anything in popular culture has its staying power. A lot of people have written plays over the years. We know Hamlet, we know Macbeth, and we know many of Shakespeare’s plays. Why do those plays last? Why do certain pieces of music? Certainly, Mozart and Beethoven were not the only people writing music 300 years ago, but they wrote things that did last. And I don’t think that is just because of luck, although sometimes it is. I think it has a lot to do with what people want to hear and what people want to share and what people want to experience again and again,” he states.
One part of the answer, Pomahac concludes, is simple: “classic resonates with us.”
Going deeper than America’s affinity with what’s familiar to us is the incredible genius of Irving Berlin’s music, which Pomahac doesn’t overlook. Much of Berlin’s work, as Kuhn notes, is still very much weaved into the fabric of American music as new generations become exposed to his work.
Pomahac ends the episode fittingly by praising Berlin for his versatility, talent, and ability to relate to audiences across generations.
“He wrote sophisticated jazzy songs like ‘Puttin’ on the Ritz,’ but he also has very simple things. Very simple songs that anyone can grasp. Whatever kind of music you like, whatever you enjoy listening to, the songs that you like, you can always find Berlin. He wrote so close to his heart, it was capable even in Annie Gets Your Gun a constant surprise,” Pomahac says.”
“There isn’t one song in that show that’s like the song that came before it or after it. You almost think, ‘Well, seven composers must have written this score.’ Because every song is so completely different and yet, they all fit together. And they constantly surprise us, the melodies. And yet, we’re comfortable with them. We’re not being yanked away, like, ‘What was that?’ We’re in the moment with Berlin. We’re not thinking about, ‘How did this happen or something else’? We’re just along for the ride,” he concludes.
For more on Annie Get Your Gun, a deep dive on Broadway, and Pomahac’s career, check out the rest of the episode on the Zak Kuhn Show.
Photo courtesy of Bruce Pomahac.