Peter Howard (conductor)

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Peter Howard (born Howard Weiss; July 29, 1927 in Miami, Florida – April 18, 2008 in Englewood, New Jersey) was an American musical theater arranger, conductor and pianist. Coming to prominence in the 1960s, Howard served as the conductor and dance music arranger for the original Broadway productions of Hello, Dolly!, 1776 and Annie and served as the dance music arranger for the original Broadway productions of Chicago, The Tap Dance Kid and Crazy for You.

The following information was provided from information obtained from the New York Times article, published on May 4, 2008 and written by Dennis Hevisi.

Peter Howard, who arranged the dance music, composed the incidental music or conducted the orchestra for many of Broadway’s biggest hits of the last half-century, and who sometimes did all three of those underappreciated jobs, died on April 18 in Englewood, N.J. He was 80 and had lived in recent years at the Lillian Booth Actors’ Home in Englewood.

The cause was pneumonia, his son, Jason, said.

Mr. Howard made his most significant mark as the dance music arranger for 23 of the 38 Broadway shows he worked on from 1949 to 2000, including productions of “1776,” “Chicago,” “Annie,” “The Roar of the Greasepaint — The Smell of the Crowd,” “The Tap Dance Kid,” “Carnival” and “Hello, Dolly!”

The dance music arranger is “the unsung hero of a Broadway show, and Peter was the greatest dance arranger,” the Tony Award-winning director and choreographer Susan Stroman said in an interview on Wednesday. “All other arrangers today measure their work against Peter Howard.”

Ms. Stroman worked with Mr. Howard in 1992, when she choreographed “Crazy for You,” a raucous reinterpretation of Gershwin standards, which had a run of 1,622 performances. Citing his work on that show, she explained how the arranger collaborates with the choreographer to transform a musical’s score.

“A composer writes 32 bars of a song — for example, Gershwin’s ‘I Got Rhythm’ — and Peter turns it into a 12-minute dance arrangement,” she said. “He understood style, entertainment value, when the characters were in love, when they were supposed to have a comic or a dramatic moment and, most of all, how to support the choreography with the music.”

Other major choreographers with whom Mr. Howard worked were Bob Fosse, Gower Champion, Danny Daniels and Baayork Lee. He worked in various capacities on, among other shows, “Harrigan ’n Hart,” “Barnum,” “How Now, Dow Jones,” “Subways Are for Sleeping,” “I Can Get It for You Wholesale,” “The Sound of Music” and “My Fair Lady.”

For “My Fair Lady,” Mr. Howard was assistant to the conductor, Franz Allers, with an unusual assignment. He spent many hours in a hotel room with the British actor and nonsinger Rex Harrison, coaching him to speak resonantly through six songs, including “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face.”

Mr. Howard had some interesting non-Broadway gigs as well, like rearranging Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes” for 25 Chinese tap dancers in Steven Spielberg’s 1984 film “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.”

Howard Weiss was born in Miami on July 29, 1927, the only child of Morris and Anna Wisnowitz Weiss. He changed his name in the late 1940s at the beginning of his Broadway career. When he was a child, the family moved to Brooklyn, where his father ran a grocery store.

Already an accomplished pianist, the teenage Mr. Howard made a guest appearance on an Arthur Godfrey radio show. He graduated from Juilliard in 1948, and a year later wrote a ballet score for a short-running Broadway musical revue, “All for Love.”

After earning a bachelor's degree at Columbia, Mr. Howard returned to Broadway as assistant conductor to Mr. Allers, first for “Plain and Fancy” and then for “My Fair Lady.” In 1958 he was one of two onstage pianists for “Say, Darling,” a show with music and lyrics by Jule Styne, Betty Comden and Adolph Green. A year later he was the conductor for the Off Broadway revival of “On the Town.” In 1964, Mr. Howard was dance music arranger, incidental music writer and conductor for the original “Hello, Dolly!”

In recent years he toured the United States and Europe with a one-man show, “Peter Howard’s Broadway,” singing, playing the piano and telling tales in an overview of his half-century not quite in the limelight.

Besides his son, of Hackensack, N.J., Mr. Howard is survived by a granddaughter. His marriage to the former Margot Cohen ended in divorce in 1979.

Mr. Howard took pride in even modest musical accomplishments, his son said. For the 1960 television production of “Peter Pan,” starring Mary Martin, he played a celesta — a small keyboard instrument that produces bell-like tones — as the voice of Tinkerbell.


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