Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music
WRIGHT and FORREST
Broadway composers Robert Craig Wright (b 25 September 1914, Daytona Beach FL; d 27 July 2005, Miami) and George (Chet) Forrest (b George Forrest Chichester, 31 July 1915, Brooklyn; d 10 October 1999, Miami) attended the same high school and university in Florida and teamed as songwriters; they had written over 80 pop songs when they were signed by MGM to adapt and write lyrics for out-of-copyright music in Sigmund Romberg's Maytime '37; only one song remained from the 20-year-old Broadway hit; the rest was a faux opera cobbled together from Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony, and they never looked back.
Still in '37, they adapted Rudolf Friml's Firefly and turned 'Donkey Serenade' into a hit (Friml didn't like it but kept the money), Sweethearts (Victor Herbert) included 'Pretty As A Picture'. They went to Broadway, where Song Of Norway '44 was a hit with the music of Grieg (Cole Porter had told them that Grieg was the greatest songwriter who ever lived). Gypsy Lady '46 used Herbert; Magdalena '48 flopped with music by a living composer, Villa-Lobos; then came their biggest success. For an adaptation of a romantic 40-year-old play the music of Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov was suggested; Vernon Duke told them to look at Alexander Borodin, and the result was Kismet '53, the original production starring Alfred Drake and running for 583 performances: 'Stranger In Paradise' was a huge pop hit (by Tony Bennett) including some of their own music, because they'd run out of Borodin. They wrote At The Grand '58 themselves, which flopped, and Kean '61, about the 19th-century actor and starring Drake; it broke even. Anya '65 was about Anastasia, with music by Rachmaninoff; it closed after two weeks and the theatre was torn down. The Great Waltz '70 used the music of Strauss. Forrest and Wright were solid craftsmen, having also worked with Walter Donaldson, Erich Korngold etc; they stuck to it and revived the '58 show: Grand Hotel '89 ran for over 1000 performances, with Maury Yeston's revisions and Tommy Tune's sparkling production.