New York Music Review by Marilyn Lester
Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II set the standard for modern musical theater. From 1943 to 1960 they reigned supreme, their fabulous success on Broadway cut short only by Hammerstein’s death. Rodgers and Hammerstein – R&H – represented (if not created) what is called “The Golden Age of Broadway.” With hit after hit, they gave America some of the lushest, most sophisticated music to enter the Songbook.
Celebrating just a portion of these achievements, MAC Award winner, Phil Geoffrey Bond, Director of Original Programming at 54 Below, put together a program of highlights featuring Cady Huffman , Heather MacRae and Stephen Wallem.
Wallem, a true tenor, opened the show with South Pacific’s “This Nearly Was Mine,” a tour-de-force number usually sung by a baritone. But with a little ear-adjustment, the song came over powerfully. Huffman followed with “Hello Young Lovers” from The King and I. She returned a little later in the show with “Many A New Day,” and Ado Annie’s comic turn “I Cain’t Say No” from Oklahoma!, the 1943 musical that began it all for R&H. It was at this point that my companion for the evening noted, “she fills the room, doesn’t she?” Yes she does: Huffman knows how to possess a stage. She has a Tony award to prove it.
Heather Mc Rae, daughter of Sheila and Gordon, reminisced about her Dad (it was Father’s Day, after all) who starred in the film versions of Oklahoma! and Carousel. Having been on set during some of the Oklahoma! filming, and having actually ridden in it, McRae sang “Surrey With The Fringe on Top.” Mc Rae also sang “Out of My Dreams” from Oklahoma!
Peppered throughout the performances, Bond gave background on R&H and their musicals, accompanied by visual images, a sort of mini Lyrics and Lyricists program, as pioneered at the 92nd Street Y over the last quarter century.
Although R&H music can be very sweet, it can also pack a punch. One of their innovations was to use dramatic source material, taking the “comedy” out of the term, “musical comedy.” Resolutions are sometimes happy, sometimes bittersweet. Such a tune is “My Lord and Master” from The King and I. Sung by a gender-bending Wallem, Tuptim’s lament that the King may own her but not her heart, still demonstrated plenty of bite – especially since he donned a dog collar for the number. Pipedream, a 1955 musical based on John Steinbeck’s gritty novella Sweet Thursday, was an unaccustomed flop, though the music lives on. Once again in a gender reversal, Wallem sang Fauna’s number, “Suzy Is A Good Thing.”
The Sound of Music, debuting in 1959, demonstrated that R&H had lost none of the magic. When Huffman invited audience members to sing along with her on the beautiful “Edelweiss,” everyone did – and knew the lyrics. “Edelweiss” was actually thought by many to be an authentic Austrian composition and national anthem. R&H were that good.
Flower Drum Song was represented by “Love, Look Away,” the last song in a delightful program of R&H hits. Matching her vocal range nicely, the song was performed by Mc Rae with sensitivity, dropping her comfortably into the perfect musical zone.
Pianist and music director was Jeremy Lyons, with Ray Kilday on bass and Rich Rosenzweig on drums.
Rogers and Hammerstein @54 – June15th 54 Below 254 West 54th Street. 646-476-3551 www.54below.com