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8 classic Buffalo stories about Marvin Hamlisch

HamlischIt was tough to write the tribute to Marvin Hamlisch that ran on the front page today. First, I was feeling bad, like everyone else, that he had died. And second, there were just so many memories. So many laughs. They all couldn't fit into the story, and it killed me to have to choose just a few.

God, that Hamlisch was funny.

Looking back I could not believe the number of times I had written about him in the Buzz column. He always had something to say. Here are a few tales of Hamlisch in Buffalo from over the years. I cut and pasted from The News' archives. Note: The first and the last stories are my favorites. They are both so out of bounds. Dear Marvin Hamlisch. We are going to miss him!

Oct. 2001: Hamlisch, at Kleinhans Music Hall, griped about CNN. He advised us to limit viewing to one hour a day. "That's enough," he told us. "And if anything big happens, you've got a friend who will call you and say, "Did you see that?'" In his finest hour, the maestro took aim at the hallowed hall itself. "Not to criticize this hall," he said, "but when you're playing the piano, you look up, for inspiration. And you see all those wires!" He pointed to the ceiling. "It looks like my West Side apartment where we'd do anything not to call an electrician. Twenty four billion dollars this place cost? You'd think someone would have said, like my mother used to say: "I don't want to see wires.'"

April 2002: Kleinhans Music Hall newcomers, beware: Just 'cause you're tucked into the balcony doesn't mean you won't find yourself talking with the conductor. Look at Christina Ciminelli, who sat there last weekend when Marvin Hamlisch conducted "Star Search." She was turning 50 and, after Hamlisch played "Happy Birthday" to her in the styles of Mozart and Beethoven, she yelled "Thank you!" Hamlisch whipped around. "That's it?" he yelled. "I just killed myself for you, and I get "thanks a lot,' and that's going to be it?" Ciminelli struggled to fix things. "I love you, Marvin!" she yelled. An interesting non-sequitur followed: "Do you make cannoli?" Hamlisch asked. "I need help," Ciminelli replied. "You sound Jewish!" shouted Hamlisch. And it continued. Later, when soprano Karen D'Angelo announced an Italian aria title, Hamlisch looked up and said, "What do you say to that, Christina?" Aw, Marv! Leave her alone!

Dec. 2002: Last weekend at the Holiday Pops concert, Hamlisch, who was conducting the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra's Pops concerts, outdid himself at the mic. "How many Jews are in the audience?" asked the maestro, who himself is Jewish and jokes about it constantly. A few hands went up, and a memorable exchange followed. "Did you exchange Hanukkah gifts?" Hamlisch asked one guy. The answer was inaudible, but Hamlisch filled us in: "He says he's waiting for Christmas." The crowd howled and cheered. Hamlisch also appealed to the young. "We're happy to see you at Kleinhans Music Hall," he told one kid. "It's so nice that you're here dot com."

March 2003: Hamlisch asked musicians why they chose the instruments they did. Tuba player Don Harry's explanation was one of the best. "Because in the bell of the tuba you can carry at least a six-pack," he dead-panned. Hamlisch shot back, "Which is why I go from city to city with my own piano."

March 2005:  Marvin Hamlisch shares our food sensibilities! His concert here last weekend, technically a tribute to Richard Rodgers, wound up being a tribute to Antoinette's Sweets, as Hamlisch rhapsodized constantly on the treats he'd enjoyed there. (We hear that Antoinette's, startled and dazzled, sent millions of chocolates to the BPO musicians on Saturday night. We hope their black tie still fits them next weekend.) After the concert, the fun continued: Stopping at Fiddleheads, Hamlisch ordered the entire dessert tray. Unlike a true Buffalonian, he shared it. But still, it's a start.

Dec. 2005: Marvin Hamlisch, conducting the Holiday Pops concerts over the weekend, beamed at Friday's crowd: "It was so nice and brave of you not to be scared away by Kevin O'Connell." 

March 2009: In a production of "Show Boat," Hamlisch, ponderous in his tails, picked good-naturedly on kids in the front row, kidding them about their iPods and their pop music. "This is going to be a shock. Luckily, we have child Tylenol ready," he told one 9-year-old. "Tonight, we've got singers, and you're going to be able to understand the lyrics."

Nov. 2008: Hamlisch came out on stage and read a paper someone had handed him about Irving Berlin's bittersweet ties to Buffalo. The songwriter, he read, had married a Buffalo girl who died five months after their honeymoon. Hamlisch told how Berlin had paid a florist on West Delavan to place a white rose on her grave every other day.  "That's romantic," he told us. He added: "Every day would have been over-the-top romantic."

-- Mary Kunz Goldman

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