Saturday, July 28, 2007


Today marks the opening of the very first Rodgers & Hart musical show on Brodway in 1920. It was called (and I always chuckle here because of where I work) "Poor Little Ritz Girl" Richard Rodgers was eighteen at the time and Lorenz Hart was twenty-five. The musical featured several of heir songs including "You Can't Fool Your Dreams" and "It's Always Intense In Tents" amoung others. It was not exclusively their show but certainly featuring six or so songs including the ones mentioned.They worked together on about thirty musicals from 1919 until Hart's death in 1943. Their breakthrough came in 1925 with The Garrick Gaieties, which featured the hit song "Manhattan."Their many other hits include "Here In My Arms," "Mountain Greenery," "The Blue Room," "My Heart Stood Still," "You Took Advantage of Me," "Ten Cents a Dance," "Dancing On The Ceiling," "Spring Is Here," "Lover," "Mimi," "Isn't It Romantic?" "Blue Moon" "Easy To Remember" "The Most Beautiful Girl In The World," "My Romance," "Little Girl Blue," "There's A Small Hotel," "I Wish I Were in Love Again," "Where Or When," "My Funny Valentine," "Johnny One Note," "The Lady Is A Tramp," "This Can't Be Love," "Falling In Love With Love," "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered," "I Could Write A Book," and "Wait Till You See Her."Their songs have long been favorites of cabaret singers and jazz artists. Hart's lyrics, facile, vernacular, dazzling, sometimes playful, sometimes melancholic, raised the standard for Broadway songwriting. Rodgers, as a creator of melodies, ranks with Jerome Kern and Irving Berlin. Their shows belong to the era when musicals were revue-like and librettos weren't much more than excuses for comic turns and music cues. Still, just as the duo's tunes were a cut above, so did the team try to raise the standard of the musical form in general. Thus A Connecticut Yankee (1927) was based on Mark Twain's novel, and The Boys From Syracuse (1938) on William Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors. Pal Joey (1940), often thought their best show, has a book by The New Yorker writer John O'Hara--adapting his own short stories--and features a title character who's a heel. So unflinching was the portrait that critic Brooks Atkinson famously asked in his review "Although it is expertly done, how can you draw sweet water from a foul well?" When the show was revived in 1952, audiences had learned to accept and enjoy darker material on Broadway (thanks in large part to Rodgers' work with Oscar Hammerstein) and audiences found it easier to deal with. The new production ran considerably longer than the original. Atkinson, reviewing the revival, said his original judgment had been wrong. Comparisons between Rodgers and Hart and the successor team of Rodgers and Hammerstein are inevitable. Hammerstein's lyrics project warmth, sincere optimism, and occasional corniness. Hart's lyrics showed greater sophistication in subject matter, more use of overt verbal cleverness, and more of a "New York" or "Broadway" sensibility. The archetypal Rodgers and Hart song, "Manhattan," rhymes "The great big city's a wondrous toy/Just made for a girl and boy" in the first stanza, then reprises with "The city's glamor can never spoil/The dreams of a boy and goil" in the last. Many of the songs ("Falling in Love with Love", "Little Girl Blue", "My Funny Valentine") are wistful or sad, and emotional ambivalence seems to be perceptible in the background of even the sunnier songs. For example, "You Took Advantage of Me" appears to be an evocation of amorous joy, but the very title suggests some doubt as to whether the relationship is mutual or exploitative At any rate this is a notable day and a nice day here. Challenges at work continue, but with God's help, I will be okay. With God's help, anything is possible. It loks like our July days are not as hot as last year's. Thank goodness!

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