Richard Rodgers redux. A thrilling night at the 92nd Street Y on May 22. I don't usually use the word thrilling. I feel it should be reserved for the archeologists who opened King Tut's tomb -- discovering something wondrous and golden in what lay buried within. That's how I felt last night when I heard so many of Richard Rodgers' songs from his late life -- after Hammerstein -- some for which he had written both the lyrics and music, others that he wrote with Stephen Sondheim, Martin Charnin, and Sheldon Harnick -- shows that for one reason of another did not become Rodger's classics but contained songs of such beauty, that when arranged with freshness, and sung with such ardor, were reborn on the Y stage. And those songs gleamed. Ted Chapin, artistic director of the evening, and Joseph Thalken, music director, did a splendid job of bringing fresh arrangements and original insights into the composer's life and work. Such splendid singers as Ben Crawford, Karen Ziemba, Betsy Wolfe, T. Oliver Reid -- captured the waltz based tunes and lifted the audience up with them throughout the performances. There were some fine scenic projections by Bill Harber that served as a helpful but unobtrusive background for the performers. And actor Larry Pine gave us Rodgers own words with wit and warmth.
Other than some film clips of interviews with those who had worked with Rodgers or knew him well -- my own included among them -- the words spoken on stage were all those of Richard Rodgers -- with the congenial help from the knowledgeable Ted Chapin who has worked for R&H for many years. Dick's composer grandson Peter Melnick and late daughter Linda Rodgers Emory added their personal family view of Rodgers. My statement was cut to its essential, one in which I place Rodgers as a man of his time -- not to be judged by the warm and fuzzy, hugs and kisses culture of our time. This did not make him a monster -- but a figure of reserve who expressed all that was most loving in him -- and there was much -- in the music he gave to his world and to posterity.
I was delighted to find myself seated beside Thomas Z Shepard, who recorded so many of the Rodgers cast albums -- some of the best show albums ever made -- and later, at an after show gathering, I met once more with the ever lovely star of Rex, the beautiful Penny Fuller -- who is preparing for her sister act with Anita Gilette "Sin Twisters." I was even approached by a few fans of "Rothschild & Sons" who had just purchased the recording and were enthusiastic about the show that Sheldon and I had revised for the York last year.
A word about the origins of the evening. Bill Rudman, a satellite radio host conceived this idea of bringing together the music Rodgers wrote after both his regular collaborators Hart and Hammerstein had passed from the scene. It was a genius idea -- and the whole show should be taken up by PBS for their American Masters series. As a "young" friend and collaborator to Richard Rodgers in his late life I was beaming throughout - I felt privileged for the chance to be in his company again through his spoken words and songs. For those who care I list the songs performed in the paragraph below.
Act One: I HAVE CONFIDENCE-THIS ISN'T HEAVEN - THE SWEETEST SOUNDS - LOADS OF LOVE - LOVE MAKES THE WORLD GO - SOMETHING GOOD - WHAT DO WE DO? WE FLY - SOMEONE WOKE UP - SOMEONE LIKE YOU - THANK YOU SO MUCH
Act Two: VELVET PAWS, WHY ME? LOVE MAKES THE WORLD GO - STRANGERS - NINETY AGAIN (this was a winner from Two by Two - a revelation for me) AN OLD MAN, I DO NOT KNOW A DAY I DID NOT LOVE YOU (and then, blush blush, from my REX) AWAY FROM YOU - EVERY DAY COMES SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL (I REMEMBER MAMA) TIME, and finally a return to REX for a song that defined Richard Rodgers life NO SONG MORE PLEASING.
What was very clear after the evening was that the imperious looking Richard Rodgers had spent his long and sometimes troubled life writing musical love letters to the world -- and we are so much the richer for it.