by Carole Di Tosti
Peter and Will Anderson, identical twin jazz saxophonists, are not only consummate musicians, they are fine musicologists. In celebrating the American songbook of our nation’s great composers, since second of August, they have highlighted the biographical musicianship and played the most celebrated compositions of Cole Porter, Harold Arlen and George Gershwin. For their pièce de résistance, they are concluding their summit with Richard Rogers until twenty-seventh of August.
The Rodgers’ show is a superb evening of entertainment. It melds fascinating biographical information about Richard Rodgers and his relationships with his two most endearing lyricist collaborators, Lorenz Hart and Oscar Hammerstein II (the third syllable of his last name pronounced to rhyme with “refine”), with salient musical numbers arranged by the Andersons in their inimitable style.
The Andersons are ably assisted by ensemble musicians, the prodigiously talented Neal Miner (bass), Jeb Patton (piano) and Phil Stewart (drums). Molly Ryan is the vocalist who stylistically sings beloved numbers which are signature Rodgers’ songs often sung by the likes of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Ella Fitzgerald and many others including Rod Stewart.
The presentation intersperses the ensemble’s performance of the Anderson’s selected Richard Rodgers’ playlist (“My Favorite Things,” “My Romance,” “The Lady is a Tramp,” “Bewitched,” “Lover,” “Blue Moon,” “Manhattan,” “My Romance,” “My Funny Valentine,” “It Might as Well be Spring,” “Surrey With the Fringe on Top,” and more), with video interview clips of Rodgers discussing Hart and Hammerstein II.
We even have the opportunity to see an archived video clip of the TV show “What’s My Line.” Rodgers and Hammerstein II appeared as mystery guests and were readily “outted” by Bennett Cerf. This is the humorous introduction to the Anderson’s summit on Richard Rodgers. In addition to this wonderful opening there are other illuminating video clips and archived photographs of Hart, Rodgers, Hammerstein II, and individuals related to their work.
There are brief clips of celebrities who performed Rodgers’ songs (Wayne Shorter, Diahann Carroll, Chet Baker, Erroll Garner, Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and others) as an addendum to insightful information narrated by Will Anderson. For example Rodgers wrote 900 songs in sixty years. He wrote forty-three musicals with his collaborators and at twenty-two had three musical hits on Broadway that he had written with Lorenz Hart whom he met when he was sixteen. Indeed, Will Anderson underscores that because of Rodgers’ great rendition and understanding of how to develop melodies he is the most played composer. At any time of day or night year-round on radio shows, one may hear a Rodgers’ song.
All of Rodgers’ and Hammersteins II’s’ award-winning musicals (South Pacific, The King and I, Carousel, The Sound of Music, Oklahoma were made into award-winning films). The Andersons feature clips of some of the most revered songs from the films and Molly Ryan sings “Surry With the Fringe on Top,” from Oklahoma. Rodgers won Emmys, Grammys, 15 Oscars, 35 Tonys and 2 Pultizers, now known collectively as an EGOT. He is the only composer other than Marvin Hamlisch to have received all of the awards.
The Andersons have selected their playlist, their biographical information, their photographs and clips with measured humor and wit, with just enough detail and information to whet the audience appetite for more. Their selection of Al Hirschfeld caricatures of Rodgers and Hart and Rodgers and Hammerstein II and of their musicals and the celebrities who portrayed the characters in them is the exceptional glue which holds the shifts and segments in the show together.
The presentation uplifts not only a historical reverence for the compositions of Rodgers and Hart and Rodgers and Hammerstein II, it also highlights the progression of the twentieth century musical as a unique form. Rodgers’ and Hart’s paramount influence was that they created a new genre, the musical, which in their facile minds, hearts and intellects was more accessible than opera and the operettas which were prevalent at the beginning of the twentieth century.
The show moves at the speed of light: ninety minutes with no intermission. It leaves one wishing for more. Their exceptional production deserves to be extended; it provides a wealth of enjoyment and information about a music icon whose works will be performed in ensuing decades as musicians in every genre continue to adapt Rodgers’ resonating melodies for a new age.
The Andersons’ Songbook Summit: Richard Rodgers is running at 59E59 Theaters (59 E 59th St, New York, NY 10022) until 27 August. For tickets call 212-753-5959