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Richard Lewine's and John Fearnley's "celebration" is, of course, not a play but a revue, reviving the enormously successful twenty-four year career of Rodgers and Hart through the performance of their songs, selected and arranged according to thematic sequences and settings which explain themselves. It was a late-season surprise party of Broadway's 1975 season and the critics and audiences celebrated together. "A champagne musical! Absolutely delightful!/' said Clive Barnes. "The freshest show in years." (N.Y. Post) A young cast of twelve performed in New York, a six-person, star-oriented production was mounted in Los Angeles and in the Chicago area it was slightly restyled once again to fit the stage of the Arlington Park Theatre. Music Theatre is pleased to present the Philadelphia premiere.
Here, for those of you who might enjoy matching the familiar-or freshly heard-songs you will enjoy this evening to their original settings on stage or screen, is a condensed chronology of the sixty or so numbers.
The eldest selection is "Any Old Place With You," the team's first professional sale in 1919. Their initial hit score for the revue, The Garrick Gaieties in 1925 featured "Manhattan." Dearest Enemy, a romantic spook of the American Revolution that same year, first presented "Here in My Arms." Their innovative mix of Mark Twain, the Camelot legend and Ye Olde Song and Dance (A Connecticut Yankee) started a 418 performance run fifty years ago this November with "Thou Swell" "My Heart Stood Still" "On a Desert Isle." The "roaring '20's" also gave us the highly danceable title song of The Girl Friend and the gentle "Blue Room." Ruth Etting first warbled "Ten Cents a Dance" in Simple Simon in 1930.
Maurice Chevalier and Jeannette MacDonald charmed each other and their audiences with "Lover" and "Isn't it Romantic?" in the 1932 film, Love Me Tonight. The full-hearted "You're Nearer" was written for the film version of Too Many Girls in 1940.
Covering their standard-setting, risk-taking prime years on Broadway, "My Romance," "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World," and "Little Girl Blue" are drawn from the circus spectacle Jumbo (1935). On Your Toes (1936), the first musical to incorporate dance into its plot is represented by "There's A Small Hotel" and "Glad to be Unhappy." The hit-packed score of Babes in Arms (1937) provides "My Funny Valentine," "Where or When," "Johnny One-Note," "I Wish I Were in Love Again/' "The Lady is a Tramp."/ Married an Angel (1938) is saluted by its title song and "Spring is Here." (Even a Rodgers and Hart mistake- 1940's Higher and Higher - bestows the durable souvenir, "It Never Entered My Mind.") The devilishly daring Pal Joey (1940) yields "Bewitched" and "Zip" and 1942's By Jupiter displayed "Everything I've Got," "Nobody's Heart," "Jupiter Forbid" and "Wait Til You See Her." One of Larry Hart's last lyrics-a comic masterpiece, "To Keep My Love Alive," is from the revival of A Connecticut Yankee which premiered five days before his death in 1943. And there is much more to recall, to discover-and to savor.
Theatre and Performance Studies
La Salle College, "Rodgers and Hart: A Musical Celebration" (1977). La Salle College Summer Music Theatre. 18.
Richard Rodgers was the handsome, personable son of a successful West Side physician and a well-mannered, serious student of music. He seemed a born family man, maintaining a conservative, orderly life-style even in seductive Hollywood. His working habits were honed to a sharply disciplined even rigid methodology.
Seven years older than Rodgers, Lorenz Hart looked and often behaved more like his partner's irrepressible kid brother. Hart's father was a part-time Tammany Hall politico who boasted that the family was related to the great German poet, Heinrich Heine. Young Larry's misfortune was to carry around this cherished tradition and a love for all literature and language-especially Shakespeare's inside a head a little too large for his dwarfish body; he was barely over five feet tall. He seems to have affected a manner to match what he believed was the persona of a doll-man no one could accept with complete seriousness.
So this pint-sized Punchinello, who could have been at his intellectual ease in a graduate Lit seminar, whose genius for the intricacies of interior rhyme, triple-rhyme, feminine and false rhyme pioneered the transformation of lyric writing from Tin Pan Alley's "June-moon" jingling to an American art form, assumed a self-cast role. He publicly played the cigar chewing Broadway eccentric whose bounding gait and accent were always pure upbeat Bronx and who-in the last years-showed up late, hung-over or not at all for rehearsals with crumpled scraps of his creative legacy in various pockets of a suit he had slept in, or scrawled on a cocktail napkin or on the margins of the daily racing form. His basic personality bubbled with generous and infectious good humor but an underswell of lonely self-belittlement gradually engulfed him.
Alcoholism and wrenchingly untimely death are the stuff of tragedy but, as an influence on the unique collaborative spirit of the team's songs, one can find a positive side to the darker side of Larry Hart's psyche. Rodger's outpouring of sweet and haunting sound is uplifting as only beautiful music can be (one of Hart's early lyrics wisely notes that "music is made of love alone"). But Hart supplied an ambivalence, that graceful tension which stemmed the tide of melodic sentiment with the perspective of a counterbalancing cynicism, shaping it to life as we recognize it in reality. Only the wedding of those worldly words to the composer's celestial music tells the whole artful truth of a Rodgers and Hart song.
As individuals, they often seemed the "odd couple" of the musical theatre. Yet their work has come to symbolize the very essence of collaboration-a musical marriage made in heaven. This summer, Music Theatre gratefully remembers and celebrates. . .. Just listen.