by Joe Regan Jr.
On March 14 Richard Holbrook returned to the Metropolitan Room with his latest show Richard Sings Rodgers With A Lot Of Heart. There was a sold out house in spite of horrendous weather outside and strong competition from other events. The room was packed with cabaret stars and members of the Noel Coward Society. Again, he was accompanied by the Tim Nelson Trio: Tim Nelson his music director on piano, Tom Kirchmer on bass, and Peter Grant on drums and percussion, all dressed in tuxedos. Again the act was flawlessly directed by Richard Barclay.
From the moment he opened his mouth to sing the verse to “With A Song In My Heart,” which he merged with “The Sound of Music,” it was evident that Holbrook has never been in better voice. There was carefully edited patter, describing only briefly Rodgers’ life, his fascination with Jerome Kern and Victor Herbert, his early encounters with Lorenz Hart and Oscar Hammerstein II, Rodgers’ own health problems, and Rodgers’ survival instincts. Holbrook’s selections were not in chronological order but suited the mood of the narratives.
One of the early high spots was Holbrook’s very romantic crooning on “Isn’t It Romantic.” But there were also some true rarities: “I Feel At Home With You,” a Hart collaboration not from any show, perfectly mixed with “Thou Swell” and “There’s Music In You,” a Hammerstein II lyric as part of Holdbrook’s encore. Holbrook also performed the original lyrics created for Jean Harlow with words indicating how she wanted to become a Hollywood star entitled “My Prayer,” which re-written became “Blue Moon,” one of Rodgers & Hart’s biggest popular hits. When Holbrook sang “I’ve Gotta Get Back To New York” from Hallelujah I’m A Bum he merged it with “Manhattan.”
“The Sweetest Sounds” from No Strings was accompanied only by Kirchmer on the bass. When Holbrook sang “Mimi” a song introduced by Maurice Chevalier, Holbrook donned a straw hat and sang with a French accent.
Holbrook is one of the few male singers in the business who is able to sing “Johnny One Note” and hold all those high notes long and strong. I think his performance surprised the crowd because they gave him prolonged applause after it. When he talked about Hart’s alcoholism, he demonstrated Hart’s ability to put his own heartbreak into his lyrics with “Nobody’s Heart” and “Glad To Be Unhappy.”
“Lover” was done with Grant’s percussion and drums re-creating Peggy Lee’s hit version. Holbrook told us that Rodgers’ hated that recording because when he was upset with jazz and big bands changing his rhythms he wrote “I Like To Recognize The Tune.”
The centerpiece of the act is the waltz medley, beginning with “Do I Hear A Waltz” (a collaboration with Stephen Sondheim) and including “It’s A Grand Night For Singing,” “Falling In Love With Love,” “The Most Beautiful Girl In The World,” and “Out Of My Dreams.”
Holbrook finished stating that Rodgers’ favorite show was Carousel and then he sang, with a great acting performance, “Soliloquy.”