Furth, George 1932–
FURTH, George 1932–
PERSONAL: Born December 14, 1932, in Chicago, IL; son of George R. and Evelyn (Tuerk) Schweinfurth. Education: Northwestern University, B.S., 1954; Columbia University, M.F.A., 1956.
ADDRESSES: Home—90 Ralph Turner, Ste. 701, West Hollywood, CA 90069-3602. Agent—The Lantz Office, 200 West 57th St., Ste. 503, New York, NY 10019.
CAREER: Actor in more than thirty feature films, including Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Myra Breckenridge, How to Save Your Marriage, Airport 77, and Shampoo, and in stage shows and television series, including The Dumplings, Tammy, Broadside, and Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. Playwright; taught in the drama department of University of Southern California, Los Angeles.
AWARDS, HONORS: Has received awards, including the Drama Critics, Outer Circle, and Evening Standard awards. Antoinette Perry Award for book of a musical, 1971, for Company.
Company (two-act; first produced on Broadway at Alvin Theatre, April 26, 1970), music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, Theatre Communications Group (New York, NY), 1996.
Twigs (four-act; first produced on Broadway at Broadhurst Theatre, November, 1971), Samuel French (New York, NY), 1977.
The Act (two-act; first produced on Broadway at Majestic Theatre, October, 1977), music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Eb, Samuel French (New York, NY), 1987.
Merrily We Roll Along (adaptation of the play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart; first produced in New York, NY, 1981), music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, Theatre Communications Group (New York, NY), 1998.
The Supporting Cast, (first produced in New York, NY, 1981), Samuel French (New York, NY), 1982.
Precious Sons: A Play in Two Acts (first produced in New York, NY, 1981), Samuel French (New York, NY), 1988.
(With Stephen Sondheim) Getting Away with Murder: A Comedy Thriller, Theatre Communications Group (New York, NY), 1997.
WORK IN PROGRESS: "Off the Record," a record album for Motown.
SIDELIGHTS: George Furth has had a distinguished career as an actor, appearing in a great many films and television series, as well as stage plays. He has penned several works for the stage also, both alone, as well as in collaboration with Stephen Sondheim. The playwright has also created librettos for some of Sondheim's musicals, including 1970's Company, which garnered Furth an Antoinette Perry (Tony) Award for best book of a musical; and 1981's Merrily We Roll Along, inspired by an older play by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman. Furth's solo efforts, Twigs and Precious Sons have also received critical acclaim, and his The Supporting Cast has been compared to the work of Neil Simon.
Company centers on one character, Robert, a single man whose married friends all think it is time for him to join their wedded ranks. At first he cynically resists them, and vignettes show the audience the glaring flaws in all of the other characters' relationships. Despite these flaws, however, Robert eventually comes to feel that he should indeed find someone to share his life with. Stephanie Coen in American Theatre remarked that Company is "legendary as the contemporary theatre's first 'plotless' musical." She further noted that "Company changed the landscape of the American musical theatre, not only because of its subject matter … but through the way the authors interlock, without necessarily attempting to integrate, score and book."
Twigs is frequently performed with one actress taking all four of the lead roles in the separate vignettes, portraying all four of the women in the family it centers on—twigs of the same family tree. According to Furth's entry in Contemporary Dramatists, the four acts are each "set in four different kitchens all on the same day before Thanksgiving…. This play begins in a vein of rambunctious comedy but gradually reveals an undertow of bleak pain."
Furth collaborated with Sondheim again for 1981's Merrily We Roll Along. Like the Hart-Kaufmann play on which it was based, the musical flowed from its end to its beginning—i.e., the somewhat cynical adult characters are much more innocent children by the close of the work. As David Sheward explained in Back Stage, "The story chronicles the demise of integrity and the destruction of affection among a trio of friends: Frank, a composer who sells out to Holly-wood; his purist partner Charley, and Mary, a novelist who secretly loves Frank." Many critics have since remarked that the show deserved a much longer run than it had; for instance, Matt Wolf, reviewing a later London, England, run for Variety, stated: "Not a day goes by that Stephen Sondheim devotees don't wish for a production of Merrily We Roll Along to match the bitter yet ravishing beauty of that short-lived 1981 Broadway entry's score."
In the same year that Merrily We Roll Along premiered, Furth also saw two of his non-musical efforts come to the stage. The Supporting Cast is the story of a woman who writes a novel based on the lives of several of her friends who happen to be involved with celebrities, and then must get their permission before the book is published. The playwright has received even more favorable critical notice for his Precious Sons: A Play in Two Acts, which Paul Birchall in Back Stage West praised as a "haunting and occasionally disturbing portrait of 1940s family life." William A. Henry, III, reviewing Precious Sons in Time, maintained that "Furth creates convincing people; he gives them clever, well-wrought and wholly plausible dialogue; and he appreciates the timeless give-and-take of family life, its perilous candor and its resilience."
Furth's non-musical collaboration with Sondheim is the dark comedy thriller Getting Away with Murder. According to Sheward in another article for Back Stage, "the basic set-up is a good one: A cross-section of cultural and ethnic types meet for their weekly group therapy session and the doctor never shows up. It develops that one of the patients is responsible for the doctor's demise." Jack O'Brien, who directed the play's first run, told Ira J. Billowit in an interview for Back Stage: "I found it a delicious read. It was great fun. It was highly theatrical, it was witty, and it looked like it might be 'scarily' successful! Stephen's sense of puzzling drama was in dazzling array, and George had written some wonderfully funny and interesting characters. So," O'Brien concluded, "it looked just like a great mix to me."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Dramatists, sixth edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.
American Theatre, December, 1995, Stephanie Coen, "Sondheim and Furth's Triple Play," pp. 8-9.
Back Stage, June 17, 1994, David Sheward, review of Merrily We Roll Along, p. 44; March 8, 1996, Ira J. Billowit, interview with Jack O'Brien, p. 19; March 22, 1996, David Sheward, review of Getting Away with Murder, p. 52.
Back Stage West, September 28, 2000, Paul Birchall, review of Precious Sons: A Play in Two Acts, p. 15; January 11, 2001, Les Spindle, review of The Supporting Cast, p. 19.
Time, March 31, 1986, William A. Henry, III, review of Precious Sons, p. 77.
Variety, December 18, 2000, Matt Wolf, review of Merrily We Roll Along, p. 34.