Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart collaborated on 28 musicals and more than 500 songs primarily in the 1930s and 40s. Yet hearing these songs performed more than 70 years later in what might be called cabaret plus (a song-show with some enthusiastic if basic choreography) makes them feel as fresh as if they'd been written in the current millennium.
Okay, so there is the occasional outmoded reference to, for example, a chaise longue, and the role of women in these ditties is definitely pre-Women's Lib, but most of the songs are what the cliche "timeless classic" might have been invented for. From "My Funny Valentine" to "Isn't It Romantic?" to the title number, these witty story-songs were the big hits of their day, and remain just as evocative and meaningful in the 21st century.
The performers are a disparate group, but their voices meld beautifully. Unamplified and with only piano accompaniment, brilliantly played by David Harvey, the company go from the deeply emotional tone of "My Friend The Night" to the comedic "Way Out West" with total ease and gusto.
Who knew that Rodgers and Hart had written a song about cake? Or serial murder? Being introduced to Rodgers' and Hart's eclectic back catalogue in the intimate space of the Jermyn Street Theatre which is dressed in the style of a 1930's nightclub to echo the theatre's history, is a delight.
Tim McArthur's direction is deft, seamlessly moving from one song to the next without narration. Of the ensemble, Stephen Ashfield is perfect as the de facto romantic lead, looking and sounding as though he'd been transported straight from the 1940s.
Katie Kerr has fine comic timing and also does a great job on the ballads. The other voices (Laura Armstrong, Valerie Cutko, McArthur) perhaps aren't quite as strong individually, but together they make wonderful music. And while the show might lack a coherent thread of narrative such as found in a Sondheim compilation, there are enough gorgeous melodies and clever lyrics in this show to ensure the audience leaves with its serotonin levels given a significant boost.
If you enjoy the music Rodgers and Hart, you'll love this show. If you aren't familiar with the music of Rodgers and Hart, you'll love this show. Buy a ticket or miss a summer treat.
- Carole Gordon