Legendary American singer-songwriter, playwright and poet Dory Previn passed away last year at age 86. Born Dorothy Veronica Langan in 1925, her long and fascinating career began in the 1950's when she was hired as a lyricist by MGM Studios after meeting film producer Arthur Freed. At MGM she met composer André Previn and they began to collaborate creatively, writing both for film scores and for popular singers of the day like Rosemary Clooney, Sammy Davis Jr., Shirley Bassey, Carmen McRae, Vic Damone, and Tony Bennett. They married in 1959.
Dory Previn's work can be accurately described as fiercely idiosyncratic and definitively brilliant with a sardonic and witty pop culture twist, and she released six pop/folk albums of her own original songs in the 1970's. She was the lyricist of several Oscar-nominated songs including "Come Saturday Morning" and "You're Gonna Hear From Me" and later in life won an Emmy also. Her solo material is remarkably honest, passionate, surreal, and haunting, delving deep into a confessional realm that was mined by very few brave souls. Previn also wrote autobiographical non-fiction (Bog Trotter, Midnight Baby) and collaborated with her composer husband prior to their divorce on "(Theme From) Valley of the Dolls" which was a smash hit in 1967 for Dionne Warwick.
Among Previn's many musical admirers was John Lennon, who was so impressed with her work that he asked to meet her. Another fan was writer Tennessee Williams, who, upon hearing "Mythical Kings and Iguanas," was quoted as saying, "That's so good, I think I must have written it." Jarvis Cocker championed her music and indie pop band Camera Obscura included a song named after her on a 2006 release. Upon learning of Previn's passing Traceyanne Campbell, the band's lead singer and songwriter, said: "She was my favorite poet, if that can be said, and had the ability to make me laugh and cry while listening to her music. "Lady With the Braid" is push come to shove my favorite song ever written." Alan Cumming called her "one of the most brilliant songwriters America has produced."
Now, at last, Previn's career is to be feted properly by New York's Vineyard Theatre on Monday June 17th, when a group of extremely gifted artists from the theater community come together to celebrate her work and give it the attention it deserves. This special one night only event will benefit the Vineyard Theatre, a leading non-profit theatre company which is dedicated to developing and producing groundbreaking new plays and musicals. Artistic Director Douglas Aibel told me he himself has been a fan of Dory's since the age of 14. Several years ago he met Julia Greenberg, a New York-based singer-songwriter and theater composer who had been keeping Previn's legacy alive by consistently performing her songs in concert. Greenberg along with journalist and Broadway producer Loraine Alterman Boyle, one of Previn's closest friends, have collaborated together on Vineyard Celebrates the Songs of Dory Previn. There can be no better pair to helm this magical night.
"After Dory's passing," said Abel, "we thought it would be interesting to get a group of gifted theatre artists to do her songs, which are so personal and so theatrical, almost like a one-act play in which a character comes to life who reveals their soul." In fact, Aibel added, "some of Dory's work sounds so newly minted it really could be performed by singer-songwriters today and not be out of place in the least." He also noted that the Vineyard has a great passion for developing voices from musical theater and has in the past explored the life and work of another great songwriter, Laura Nyro. "I think it will be really interesting hearing Dory's songs covered by different voices."
Those voices will include Tony winner Gabriel Ebert (Matilda), Tony Nominees Malcolm Gets (Amour), Veanne Cox (Company), Amanda Green (Lyricist, Hands on a Hardbody and Bring It On...) as well as Heidi Blickenstaff ([title of show], Now.Hear.This), Michael Esper (The Lyons, American Idiot), Sarah Stiles (On A Clear Day, Avenue Q), Cassie Levy (Murder Ballad, Ghost The Musical, Hair), and Phillipa Soo (Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812). They will be joined by Stew (Passing Strange), Judy Kuhn (Passion), Nellie McKay (Old Hats), and the aforementioned Julia Greenberg (who besides her credits as a singer-songwriter also co-wrote the hit off-Broadway musical People Are Wrong!). Jon Spurney will direct the music.
The evening is part of a series of special events to commemorate the Vineyard Theatre's 30th Anniversary this year. Tickets can be purchased at VineyardTheatre.org.