Lyrics & Lyricists: “Here’s to the Girls!” – Hollywood’s Leading Ladies
Review by Peter Haas
They sang! They danced! They even acted! They were the leading ladies of scores of original Hollywood musicals throughout the 1930s, 40s and 50s. Think of Garland, MacDonald, two Powells (Eleanor and Jane), Keeler, Rogers, Grable, Hutton and more: they, and the songs they performed in movie musicals, were given lively tribute in the February outing of the 92nd Street Y’s Lyrics & Lyricists series, “Here’s to the Girls”
In a program co-created by Charles Busch and Carl Andress, and hosted in relaxed, warm style by Busch, the evening featured songs by many of the nation’s great composers and lyricists of the period, who were brought to Hollywood to write for the big studios.
Fittingly, the evening’s cast was all girls: Nancy Anderson, Andrea Burns, Cady Huffman, Erin Maguire and Zakiya Young – moving smoothly, in solos and changing combinations, through some three dozen songs, while old posters of the movies the songs had appeared in flashed on the auditorium’s large screen behind them. Supporting the ladies: a fine five-piece band under the direction of pianist/composer/arranger John McDaniel.
From the Warner Brothers studios came such songs as “Forty-Second Street,” from the film of the same name starring Ruby Keeler; “Secret Love,” Doris Day’s number in Calamity Jane; and “They’re Either Too Young or Too Old,” performed originally in a star-studded war-time movie by – surprise! – Bette Davis. Universal Pictures was represented by “The Boys in the Backroom,” Marlene Dietrich’s number in Destry Rides Again, while Andrea, Nancy and Zakiya brought back memories of the Andrews Sisters as they performed a five-song medley, including the sisters’ famed “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen”
Twentieth-Century Fox had its own stars, including Shirley Temple (“On the Good Ship Lollipop”), Betty Grable (“Down Argentine Way”) and Marilyn Monroe (represented by both Irving Berlin’s “Heat Wave” and “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.”
From Columbia Pictures, in its Latin-American mode, came the Carmen Miranda song, “The Lady in the Tutti-Frutti Hat,” and Betty Grable, who had performed “Down Argentine Way.” The talents of Irving Berlin as writer and Marilyn Monroe as singer were recalled with “Heat Wave,” while Monroe’s star turn in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was remembered via “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.”
From Paramount came such songs as “The Moon of Manakoora,” introduced in the film by Dorothy Lamour, and “Now I’m a Lady,” performed originally by Mae West, while MGM’s goddesses included Jeanette MacDonald (“Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life”), Lena Horne (“Love”), tapster Ann Miller (“Shaking the Blues Away”) and Debbie Reynolds (“Good Mornin’,” from Singing in the Rain.
The evening’s finale: A Judy Garland medley, ending with “Over the Rainbow,” followed by the audience joining in (an L&L tradition) on “Here’s to the Girls,’’ from 1945’s Ziegfeld Follies.
Coming to Lyrics & Lyricists over the weekend of March 21-23: “New York: Songs of the City,” featuring Klea Blackhurst, Peter Cincotti, Darius de Haas, La Tanya Hall, Leslie Kritzer and Jeffrey Schechter. Artistic director and host: Deborah Grace Winer, who is also the imaginative artistic director of the series.
*Photos: Richard Termine