He knew “a lot of pretty special songs”

November 30, 2021

Gershwin Shows Ira Gershwin

The only known meeting of two Broadway giants occurred on June 4, 1963, during one of Ira Gershwin’s rare visits to New York City after his permanent move to Beverly Hills, California nearly three decades earlier. That evening, Ira went to see his friend Zero Mostel star in a production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum at the Alvin Theatre, where four of Ira’s own shows had opened between 1927 and 1935. A Funny Thing … was the first Broadway musical for which Stephen Sondheim, then in his early thirties, wrote both the music and the lyrics, and Ira commented in his diary that the “score even though not generally acclaimed worked well.” Ira went backstage to greet Mostel and was introduced to Sondheim, who accompanied the group to Sardi’s for a post-show meal. The older lyricist was intrigued by Sondheim’s knowledge of “a lot of pretty special songs,” and he was pleased when the younger man told him that among his favorites was one of Ira’s more obscure numbers, “There’s No Holding Me,” from the unsuccessful 1946 musical Park Avenue. In 2000, Sondheim included this song in his list of “Songs I Wish I’d Written (At Least in Part).”

— Michael Owen