92Y Lyrics & Lyricists celebrates the last part of legendary composer Richard Rodgers productive career after Hammerstein
by Linda Amiel Burns
Richard Rodgers was born in 1902 and met lyricist Lorenz Hart in 1921 when he was only nineteen. The remarkable partnership of “Rodgers & Hart” lasted twenty years until Hart’s death. For the next twenty years, the team of “Rodgers & Hammerstein” was the most successful collaboration in musical theater history. When Hammerstein died in 1960 during the filming of Sound of Music, Rodgers was only 58 years of age, still vibrant and healthy. It is this last part of Rodgers career that Lyrics & Lyricists examined in this extraordinary program “I Have Confidence: Rodgers After Hammerstein” presented at the 92Y from May 21-23, 2016.
Ted Chapin was the artistic director, writer and also served as a knowledgeable and articulate host. Music director Joseph Thalken played piano and created all of the arrangements. His band of musicians was superb: Robin Zeh on violin, Diane Barere on cello, Todd Groves on woodwinds, Dick Sarpola on bass and Erik Charlston on percussion. Lorin Latarro was the stage director and choreographer. The actor Larry Pine played Rodgers, quoting from his actual words, bringing this legendary composer to life. The cast of fine singers was Ben Crawford, T. Oliver Reid, Betsy Wolfe, and Karen Ziemba.
The title of the concert derived from the fact that two songs for the film of The Sound of Music, “I Have Confidence” (the opening number sung by the entire cast) and “Something Good” (a lovely duet with Betsy & Ben) was written by Rodgers alone. For his first solo outing, Rodgers wrote both lyrics and music for the hit 1962 show No Strings, and won the Tony Award. Karen sang a lively “Loads of Love” and Betsy joined her for “Love Makes the World Go.” The most memorable song from that show was “The Sweetest Sounds” and Betsy and T. Oliver did it justice.
Rodgers first collaboration was with Hammerstein’s protégé Stephen Sondheim, and although there was talk of difficulties during the creation of the show, “Do I Hear a Waltz” has a lovely score and the show was just revived at Encores, with Karen Ziemba playing Signora Fioria. “What Do We Do We Fly” was sung and acted out to perfection by the cast. Karen & Ben sang “Thank You So Much,” a song that the writers felt would help the lovers express that although they had to part, were glad to have had time together.
Martin Charnin (Annie) collaborated with Rodgers on the 1970 musical Two by Two based on Clifford Odetts The Flowering Peach about Noah and the Ark. Ben, as the 600-year-old Noah, was terrific singing to his wife that he feels “Ninety Again.” Another song from that show sung by T. Oliver “I Do Not Know A Day I Did Not Love You” demonstrated why Rodgers was known as a “melodist” as his melodies were always soaring and memorable.
A particular effective element was a collection of filmed interviews on the screen with people who had known or worked with Rodgers during this period. The great Sheldon Harnick said that when he and Rodgers were writing the 1975 musical Rex together, he was nervous to show his lyrics to the master composer. Later he found out that Rodgers was just as worried about disappointing Harnick. Ben & Betsy sang the tender love song “Away From You” from that show.
Rodgers last show I Remember Mama (1979) had lyrics by Martin Charnin. The cast sang the optimistic “Ev’ry Day Comes Something Beautiful” and Karen performed “Time,” a poignant song that was ironic as Rodgers had had serious health problems, continued to write, and died that year at age 77.
Volumes have been written about this prolific composer whose career spanned over 60 years, but none better expressed the importance and talent of this great man than the quote of Charles Kuralt who said in a CBS Tribute the day after he died: “Richard Rodgers was a composer for the 1920’s. And then it turned out, he was a composer for the ‘30’s as well. And the 1940’s, the 50’s, and ‘60’s too. And on the last night of the 1970s, we say good-bye to him – but not to his music. That will go on and on and on.” The program notes say that “he was arguably the most important composer in the 20th century American musical theater: a day does not go by without one of this shows produced somewhere in the world!”
Visit 92Y.org/Lyrics or phone 212 415-5500 to find out about the 2017 season of Lyrics & Lyricists. The first concert on Jan 21-23 will be “Get Happy: Harold Arlen’s Early Years” with Robert Kimball, Vince Giordano, and Klea Blackhurst.
Photos: Richard Termine