Born in New York in 1934, Martin Charnin has had a long career in musical theater, from his early days as a performer to his later years as a composer, writer, director, and lyricist. His lyrics to the song “Tomorrow,” from the musical Annie, have been sung and heard across the globe.
In his early days on Broadway, Charnin took bit parts in musicals; he was one of the Jets in the original cast of the classic 1957 Bernstein-Laurents-Sondheim musical West Side Story. (Charnin’s first two wives had also performed in West Side Story.) Next he played a waiter – and was a standby for Dick Van Dyke – in Arnold B. Horwitt and Richard Lewine’s musical The Girls Against the Boys (1959), which had a brief run on Broadway.
In 1963 Charnin’s theatrical career moved in a new direction when he became lyricist for the musical Hot Spot, with music by Mary Rodgers, which played at the Majestic Theatre. He later contributed lyrics to La Strada, a 1969 musical based on Fellini’s classic film. Despite a critically praised performance by Bernadette Peters, the show closed after opening night.
Charnin had far greater success the following year as the lyricist of Two by Two (1970), with a book by Peter Stone and music by Richard Rodgers, who also directed. The show – a retelling of the story of Noah and his ark – starred Danny Kaye as Noah and featured Madeline Kahn as Goldie, both of whom can be heard on the original Broadway cast recording.
Making his Broadway debut as a director, Charnin conceived and directed Nash at Nine (1973), a musical revue based on the poems of Ogden Nash. Though it only had a short run, the next musical that Charnin worked on was a smash hit, running for 2,377 performances – Annie, based on Harold Gray’s comic strip Little Orphan Annie. Charnin provided the lyrics and directed, while Charles Strouse wrote the music and Thomas Meehan the book. Annie won seven Tony Awards®, including ones for Best Musical and Best Musical Score (which Strouse shared with Charnin). The original Broadway cast recording came out in 1977, and a CD with bonus tracks was released in 2008.
Richard Rodgers and Charnin joined forces again in 1979, when Rodgers wrote the music and Charnin the lyrics for a musical version of I Remember Mama, which played at the Majestic Theatre and featured Liv Ullmann as Mama. Later shows that featured Charnin either as lyricist or director included The Madwoman of Central Park West (1979), The First (1981), A Little Family Business (1982), Cafe Crown (1989), Sid Caesar and Company (1989), The Flowering Peach (1994), and Jeanne La Pucelle (1997).
In 1965, Charnin wrote two episodes for the television variety show The Bell Telephone Hour – “The Music of Harold Arlen” and “Salute to Jerome Kern” – and he later produced and directed several TV specials. In addition, he has worked on nightclub acts for such performers as Diahann Carroll, Dionne Warwick, Nancy Wilson, Leslie Uggams, and José Ferrer.