by Lisa Joy Reitman-Dobi
As destiny would have it, Richard Holbrook’s most recent performance was slated during the Mabel Mercer Foundation’s Annual Cabaret Conference. While some might see this as a conflict, it is, in fact, one of the best ways to honor Ms. Mercer. In Richard Sings Rodgers With A Lot Of Heart, Mr. Holbrook not only sings Rodgers, he tells the story of the man whose lyrics have been singing stories for over 80 years.
With a song in his heart, and an opening number to match, Richard holds the audience in his gentle hands. He radiates an unmatched appreciation for a lyricist whose prolific genius garnered him the EGOT, (the Emmy, the Grammy, the Oscar and the Tony), as well as the Pulitzer.
Richard Sings Rodgers With A lot Of Heart is far more than a stunning array of the music of Richard Rodgers: it is a rich tapestry telling the story of a twentieth century legend. We all know the songs, but how much do we know about the man who unwittingly wrote the soundtrack for our lives?
Richard Holbrook’s show delivers in every way. The evening’s selections from Rodgers’s vast body of work included an astounding number of favorites from both stage and screen: The Sound of Music; A Connecticut Yankee; Oklahoma; Carousel; Billy Rose’s Jumbo, and dozens more, including two of my favorite numbers, “Blue Moon” and “Isn’t It Romantic.”
There was a remarkable synergy between Mr. Holbrook and the Tom Nelson Trio. With Musical Director director Tom Nelson on piano, Tom Kirchner on bass and Peter Grant, on drums, the ensemble worked together with a seamless eloquence. Having experienced Richard Holbrook’s expressive poise, I see that one would expect nothing less.
Holbrook is not only an enchanting singer; he is a captivating and passionate storyteller. This was one of those rare occasions when the narratives between the songs were as integral to the performance as the musical selections themselves. With depth, reverence and a twinkle in his eye, Holbrook creates an atmosphere that moves us through time. He charts the fascinating life of America’s most prolific and popular lyricist, from Rodgers and Hart’s earliest years, struggles and success, through Rodgers’s renowned collaboration with Oscar Hammerstein II, to his work with Stephen Sondheim. Holbrook takes the audience from New York to Hollywood and back to Broadway, sprinkling the way with facts that took me by surprise.
Holbrook’s brilliant combination of music and memoir create an articulate picture of a time and a man. The era is long gone, but the music lives on. In the words of Richard Rodgers:
“A song is a lot of things. But, first of all, a song is the voice of its time. Setting words to music gives them weight, makes then somehow easier to say, and it helps them to be remembered.”
Richard Sings Rodgers With A Lot of Heart is a tender tribute to the life and lyrics of Richard Rodgers. It is a box of love letters brimming with music and memories.
Special thanks to the Metropolitan Room family: Bernie Furshpan, Joanne Furshpan, Joseph Macchia, Tom Gamblin, Vince, Nora, Hanna and the rest of the warm, wonderful staff. Beautiful lighting and superb sound for Richard Sings Rodgers With A Lot of Heart, courtesy of the talented Jean Pierre Perreaux.
Check the Metropolitan Room’s schedule for Richard’s next performance at this marvelous venue.
See Richard Holbrook: Always December at Don’t Tell Mama on Sunday, December 18, 2016 at 8:30 pm.
Don’t Tell Mama is located at 343 West 46th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues. For more information call 212-757-0788 after 4:00 PM.