After the show, Bacharach asked to meet the cast. They filed out onstage, exhausted and flying high. “Who did the charts?” Bacharach asked the musicians. “Steve,” they replied. He asked the singers, “Who did the vocals?” Heads nodded toward Gunderson, who stood in a “flop sweat,” one-foot onstage, the other angled toward the EXIT sign, should a need to flee prove urgent (“Okay, so he loathed the arrangements, but he stayed for the whole show, didn’t he?”).
They shook hands. “It’s a shame this is such a small venue,” Bacharach said, putting an arm around Gunderson. “More people should see what you’ve done. I’m calling Hal.”
Gunderson drove home that night feeling “a flood of relief, awe, and choked up.”
“Burt called the next morning,” Hal David remembers. “He fell in love with the show and urged me to see it.” David and wife Eunice drove down from L.A. that day. He was struck by the note-to-note sophistication and how Gunderson combines the songs. At the beginning of his career, before he wrote the lyrics for a song, David wrote a short story. He then composed lyrics from the story. “Steve turns these songs — these little stories — into a motion picture!”
That same day, Gunderson saw an unfamiliar number on his cell phone. The message said: “Steve? Burt Bacharach. Give me a call.”
“You’re a unique musical talent,” Bacharach told him on the phone. “I’ve had a lot of revues, and you’re the first I trust to get inside of my music. I want to help the show any way I can.”
Gunderson and Najimy met with Bacharach and his lawyer at the Los Angeles office of BMI (Broadcast Music, Inc.). On the way up the stairs, Najimy lectured Gunderson on proper take-a-meeting behavior: “He’ll be a businessman. So you be too. Professional, okay? Don’t go all gushy!”
Inside, Gunderson sat erect, contained: business, not personal. When Bacharach began complimenting the arrangements, Najimy, “so proud to be part of this moment, just lost it!
“Burt, abso-LUTEly! Steve’s a genius…we’re best friends… how long?? (What’s 1972 from…?) — Thirty-seven years! School together…skits, revues like you WOULD NOT BELIEVE! So happy for him…one of the best moments of my…
“Burt nods at me,” Najimy recalls with a self-mocking laugh, “then turns and says, ‘Now Steve.…’ ”
In the parking lot afterward, Gunderson and Najimy “screamed like little kids!”
The meeting led to an expanded, “spruced up” version of BTB&D in Los Angeles at the Music Box last April. The 23 performances drew rave reviews, and a producing team is currently shopping the project around the U.S. and Europe.
“It’s such an exciting time for the show,” says Gunderson. “And without a doubt, having Burt and Hal so into the project and having this relationship with them will be the great event of my life.
“And you know? It’s all by accident. It was something I never would have asked for, let alone dreamed of coming true.”