Charles Strouse (born June 7, 1928) is a three-time Tony Award, and a two–time Grammy and Emmy Award winning American composer and lyricist.
Strouse was born and raised in New York City, the son of Ira and Ethel (Newman) Strouse. A graduate of the Eastman School of Music, Strouse studied under David Diamond, Aaron Copland and Nadia Boulanger.
He has written scores for over 30 stage musicals, including 14 for Broadway. He has also composed scores for five Hollywood films, two orchestral works and an opera. He has been inducted to the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Theatre Hall of Fame. His song “Those Were the Days” launched over 200 episodes of All in the Family” and continues to reach new generations of television audiences in syndication. With hundreds of productions licensed annually, his musicals Annie and Bye Bye Birdie are among the most popular of all time–produced by regional theaters, amateur and school groups all over the world.
A long–standing member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Theater Hall of Fame, Strouse is one of America’s most successful musical theater composers. His first Broadway musical, Bye Bye Birdie (1960), was written with his long–time collaborator Lee Adams, and starred Dick Van Dyke, Chita Rivera and Paul Lynde. It produced hit songs including “Put on a Happy Face,” “A Lot of Livin’ to Do,” and the fan anthem “We Love You Conrad.” The show won Strouse a Tony Award and the London Critics Best Foreign Musical Award.
In 1970, Applause, a musical adaptation of All About Eve starring Lauren Bacall, achieved the same honors, earning Strouse his second Tony.
In 1977, Strouse teamed with lyricist Martin Charnin and librettist Thomas Meehan on the Broadway musical Annie. Running for 2,377 performances and yielding countless productions around the world, Strouse’s score included “Tomorrow,” “It’s the Hard–Knock Life,” “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile,” and “I Don’t Need Anything But You.” The Broadway phenomenon earned Strouse his third Tony Award.
Strouse has also garnered Tony nominations for his Broadway scores of Golden Boy (1966), an adaptation of the Clifford Odetts classic starring Sammy Davis Jr.; Charlie & Algernon (1980), a musical based on the Daniel Keyes novel Flowers for Algernon; Rags (1986), a collaboration with Stephen Schwartz and Joseph Stein starring opera star Teresa Stratas; and Nick and Nora (1991), a musical based on Dashiell Hammett’s The Thin Man characters, written with Richard Maltby, Jr. and Arthur Laurents.
Strouse’s other musicals on Broadway and/or London’s West End include All American (1962), starring Ray Bolger, book by Mel Brooks, direction by Joshua Logan and featuring the popular ballad “Once Upon a Time”; It’s A Bird… It’s A Plane… It’s Superman (1966), a stage adaptation of the comic strip, produced and directed by Hal Prince; I And Albert (1972), the West End musical about Queen Victoria, directed by John Schlesinger; A Broadway Musical (1978); Bring Back Birdie (1981), the sequel to Bye Bye Birdie; and Dance a Little Closer (1983), written with Alan Jay Lerner. Strouse wrote both the music and lyrics for Off–Broadway’s Mayor (1985), an adaptation of Ed Koch’s book, and teamed again with Martin Charnin to create Annie Warbucks (1993), the stage sequel to Annie.
Strouse’s film scores include Bonnie & Clyde (1967), for which he received a Grammy nomination for Best Original Film Score, There Was a Crooked Man (1970), with Henry Fonda and Kirk Douglas, The Night They Raided Minsky’s (1968), Sidney Lumet’s Just Tell Me What You Want, and the animated feature All Dogs Go To Heaven (1989). His two biggest stage hits have also been adapted for the screen. Bye Bye Birdie (1963) starred Dick Van Dyke, Janet Leigh, Ann Margaret, Maureen Stapleton and Bobby Rydell, and was recently included in Entertainment Weekly’s “Top 40 Best High School Movies.” Annie, directed by John Houston and starring Carol Burnett, Albert Finney, and Bernadette Peters was one of the top grossing films of 1982.
Strouse is best known to television audiences for his song “Those Were the Days.” One of the most popular television themes of all time, Carroll O’Connor and Jean Stapelton launched over 200 episodes of All in the Family singing the song from behind their spinet. This concept that was originally devised by series creator Norman Lear as a means of cutting costs, wound up making television history. Strouse’s other television credits include scores for the television musicals Alice in Wonderland, Lyle, Lyle Crocodile, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible No Good, Very Bad Day, and Annie–A Royal Adventure.
Four of Charles Strouse’s Broadway musicals have been produced for television. Applause (1973) starred Lauren Bacall and Penny Fuller (reprising their Broadway roles), and featured Larry Hagman as Bacall’s love interest. It’s a Bird… It’s a Plane… It’s Superman aired in 1975, and featured Lesley Ann Warren, Loretta Switt and David Wayne. Bye Bye Birdie aired in 1995, and starred Jason Alexander, Vanessa Williams, George Wendt and Tyne Daly. The production won Strouse an Emmy for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Music for the song “Let’s Settle Down.” Directed by Oscar nominee Rob Marshall, Annie aired on ABC’s The Wonderful World of Disney in 1999, and starred Kathy Bates, Victor Garber, Audra McDonald, Kristen Chenoweth, and Alan Cumming. Disney’s production of Annie won Strouse two more Emmys and a Peabody Award, and still ranks as the highest rated television musical in Nielsen history.
Strouse’s writing also extends into orchestral works, chamber music, piano concertos and opera. His Concerto America, composed in 2002 to commemorate 9/11 and the spirit of New York City, premiered at The Boston Pops in 2004, and his opera Nightingale (1982), starring Sarah Brightman, had a successful run in London, followed by many subsequent productions. In 1977, Strouse founded the ASCAP Musical Theatre Workshop in New York, through which many young composers and lyricists have found a forum for their work.
Strouse authored the autobiography “Put on a Happy Face: A Broadway Memoir”, published by Union Square press in July 2008, in celebration of his 80th Birthday.