The Man Who Would Be King and The Man Nobody Knows
Alan J. Lerner (1918-1986)
The man who would show flashes of genius was Alan J. Lerner. At his best, he would come closest to the philosophical foundation of Oscar Hammerstein II. Lerner’s problem was that he did not bring the same philosophy to each project, thus leaving us uncertain what his body of work would mean. In Brigadoon (1947.07), he wrote his best libretto for a stage musical. It had excellent characters, all of whom were distinct and unique. He posed the key question in Act One, Scene 1, when Tommy and Jeff are lost in the Highlands of Scotland, so that the rest of the play could develop and resolve the question.
In My Fair Lady (1956.01), the real credit for the libretto goes to George Bernard Shaw who wrote Pygmalion (1913), the play that My Fair Lady is based upon.
Perhaps Lerner’s best work was his screenplay for Gigi (1958).
If you want to see how far he could fall, take a look at his libretto for 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (1976.11).
Dale Wasserman (1914-2008)
On the other hand, the man who was completely consistent only wrote one musical (Man of La Mancha, 1965.34) and one play (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, 1963). With no formal education (one year of high school), Wasserman wrote two of the most metaphysical shows ever written; Lerner’s Brigadoon, being the third one.
It is a shame that Wasserman was not asked to produce more libretti.