Winter Rhythms and the Songs of Hugh Martin

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Reviewed by Joe Regan Jr.

 

 

I wasn’t scheduled to review “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas: the Songs of Hugh Martin” the show, conceived and hosted by Will Friedwald with musical director Tedd Firth, but it was so terrific I felt I needed to report on it. The all star cast featured Eric Comstock, Minda Larsen, Marissa Mulder, Melissa Ritz, Sigali (who co-produced with Friedwald,) Molly Ryan and Dan Levinson, Deborah Silver, Gabrielle Stravelli, the vocal group Duchess, and a surprise guest, the great Marilyn Maye.

Friedwald gave us some biographical material. Richard Rodgers heard some nursery rhymes Martin set to music and hired him to do the musical arrangement of “Sing For Your Supper” with its intricate harmonies. Rodgers was so impressed, he silently produced Martin and his partner Ralph Blane’s new musical, “Best Foot Forward.” The female vocal group Duchess sang “Just A Little Joint with a Juke Box” (introduced by Nancy Walker,) “That’s How I Love the Blues,” “What Do You Think I Am,” “The Three B’s.” MGM bought the movie rights and put them under contract. For Walker he wrote with Roger Edens “The Joint Is Really Jumpin’ In Carnegie Hall” which was sung by Molly Ryan accompanied by Dan Levinson.

Gabriele Stravelli did a sensational version of “Love” which was introduced by Lena Horne in “Ziegfeld Follies.” From their second show, “Look Ma, I’m Dancing,” Eric Comstock dueted with Carole J. Bufford delightfully on “Little Boy (Little Girl) Blues.”

Before we got to the “High Spirits” score, sexy Deborah Silver slinked through all the verses and choruses of “An Occasional Man” from “The Girl Rush.”

Noel Coward was a big fan of Martin and gave him the rights to musicalize “Blithe Spirit.” For that show, written with Timothy Gray (who was one of the Martins – Martin’s musical trio that was featured on many television shows”), Silver did “You’d Better Love Me,” Sigali did Ruth’s song “Was She Prettier Than I?’ and Eric Comstock did sprightly versions of “Home, Sweet Heaven,” with all its tongue twisting lyrics, and “I Know Your Heart.”

Melissa Mulder sang “Here Come the Dreamers,“ a pretty ballad from an unproduced show with Marshall Barer lyrics, and then the surprise superstar guest appeared in all her finery.

Marilyn Maye appeared and did a stunning version of “Ev’ry Time” from “Best Foot Forward.” When she was 12 years old, her cousin Joy Hodges of the original cast was appearing in Chicago in the tour. Maye had been singing on the radio since she was five, and Hodges invited her to the show and told Martin he had to hear her cousin sing. Martin agreed and on a bare stage in the big theater Maye sang her song. It began a long friendship and when, later in his life, Ralph Blane opened a cooking utensils store in Oklahoma, Maye would appear in a club in that town and would sing her special arrangement of “The Boy Next Door” and “The Trolley Song.”

Maye began “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” and one by one the entire cast joined her on stage and invited the audience to sing along on the last chorus.

Winter Rhythms still has some great shows coming up including “A Solo Trio” excerpts from one person plays and musicals with Len Cariou, Rita Gardner and Phil Geoffrey Bond, Adam Shapiro’s “Nothing Normal,” “Broadway by Guitar” with Sean Harkness, “MAC Award Winning Songs.” and “The Lovers, the Dreamers, and Jim (Henson).”

Urban Stages is located at 259 West 30 Street. Go to www.urbanstages.org for schedule and call 212 868-4444 for tickets.

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