92Y- Rodgers, Rodgers, & Guettel: Statues and Stories

Available online through December 31.

Among Richard Rodgers iconic work is The Sound of Music, The King and I, Oklahoma!, South Pacific, Flower Drum Song, and Carousel.
Among his daughter’s Mary Rodgers credits are Once Upon a Mattress, The Mad Show, and Working.
Among Mary’s son Adam Guettel’s credits are Floyd Collins, The Light in the Piazza- and, coming up Days of Wine and Roses.

“The Carousel Waltz” is hauntingly played in a dark theater. Beth Malone’s pitch perfect voiceover begins: “Song writers were confidence men, that is they gave the culture confidence. In their lyrics, they often boasted like snake oil salesmen in the special powers of their elixir … which in the very act of consuming could hypnotize, enchant…the men and women who make popular music became unwitting architects of popular consciousness.” John Lahr, 2002

Telly Leung, Mariand Torres, Katherine Henley

Telly Leung’s thoughtful performance of “I Could Write a Book” (Pal Joey 1940- Richard Rodgers/Lorenz Hart) opens the vocal portion of this evening’s glimpse into the Rodgers family business. Natural vibrato creates sympathy. Throughout much of the 1940s, the songs from Pal Joey were banned from radio play by ASCAP, preventing them from becoming popular standards; the ban was lifted in the late 1940s.

“As a famous man’s daughter, I always had an urgent rebellious desire to retain my own identity.” Mary Rodgers (1958 The New York Times) “I had a pleasant talent, but not an incredible talent…” (John Nathan in The Jewish Chronicle 2014)

Mariand Torres has a fine voice but her robust “Shy” loses humor by not creating stronger contrast in the quiet and brassy portions of lyrics. (Once Upon a Mattress the show that brought Carol Burnett to public attention in 1959. Mary Rodgers and Marshall Baer.)

“Writing for musical theater was not something I ever wanted to do…(but I) ended up realizing that writing for character and telling stories for music was something I really loved …” Adam Guettel, interview with Ryan Defoe 2001.

From The Light in the Piazza 2005, music and lyrics Adam Guettel, we hear “The Beauty Is” as performed by Katherine Henley. Controlled soprano exudes pathos and awe. Musicalization of the John O’Hara story was suggested to her son by Mary Rodgers who has previously suggested it to her father.

Nikki Renee Daniels, Julia Murney, Pearl Sun

“Grampa was in the right place at the right time, even if he wasn’t the most enlightened person personally and he had perfect control of his technique.” Adam Guettel

Nikki Renee Daniels offers a musing “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered.” Less animation would make emotion more palpable. (Pal Joey 1940, Richard Rodgers/Lorenz Hart. The show ran 10 months starring Gene Kelly.) “Larry and I worked together for over 24 years…probably the oldest partnership in the history of musical theater. The only source of his pride I was able to discover was his work…Our fights over words were furious, blasphemous, and frequent, but we never had a single personal argument.” Richard Rodgers

“The Boy From” is a difficult song to pull off with just the right deadpan droll attitude. Julia Murney is successful: Tall and slender, moves like a dancer,/But i never seem to get any answer/ From the boy from tacarembo la tumbe del fuego santa malipas zatatecas la junta del sol y cruz. (“crooth”)/I got the blueth. (The Mad Show 1966- Mary Rodgers/lyrics semi-anonymously written by Stephen Sondheim. Official songwriting credit went to the pseudonym “Esteban Rio Nido”, which translates from the German, via Spanish, to “Stephen River Nest.”)

Pearl Sun’s “Dividing Day” (The Light in the Piazza) arrives rueful, poignant, skillful, musically difficult to grasp. Sung by Allison Blackwell, the usually lilting “Do I Hear a Waltz?”  is oddly stressed instead of buoyantly romantic. (Do I Hear a Waltz 1965, Richard Rodger/Stephen Sondheim) “…there are times, particularly in the early stages, when the songs are merely a decoration. They give the impression that they are there because a musical requires music.” Howard Taubman, The New York Times on Do I Hear a Waltz

Two more from The Light in the Piazza, “Say It Somehow,” meshing vocals by Katharine Henley and Zachary Noah Piser (who, alas, one can hardly hear at points) and Piser’s heartfelt rendition of “Love To Me” are next. Leung then returns for an utterly lovely “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught” (South Pacific 1949, Richard Rodgers/Oscar Hammerstein II.) ‘Vulnerable and affecting. The show became Broadway’s second longest running musical to that point winning The Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1950.

Allison Blackwell, Zachary Noah Piser

“Creating my own lyric has given me new perspective on the problems of songwriting collaboration. It is, I well know, more difficult to write words than to compose melody…There is a strange conflict, part loneliness, part fulfillment in becoming my own partner.” (Richard Rodgers, A Composer Looks at His Lyricists-Dramatists’ Guild Quarterly 1967)

Julia Murney beautifully performs “Something Good” (Music and Lyrics Richard Rodgers, the film version of The Sound of Music.) Interpretation is grateful, pleased, pristine. The film was popular throughout the world, breaking previous box-office records in twenty-nine countries.

“In my family, to be good is to fail. To be very good is to fail. To only do three really good things is to fail. The only thing not a failure is to be great.” Adam Guettel, A Complicated Gift by Jesse Green

Piser gives us a stirring version of “How Glory Goes” (Floyd Collins 1996, Adam Guettel with additional lyrics by Tina Landau.) The show was based on the death of Collins who was trapped in a Kentucky mine in the winter of 1925 prompting a media circus. “Musical style is drawn from bluegrass, Americana, and “more complex musical forms that have their antecedents in the likes of Bartok, Janacek and Stravinsky” Critic David Spencer 2009.

Though Mary Rodgers got short shrift and Piazza long, this is another beautifully produced, written and curated offering from the new Preludes series at 92Y.

Artistic Director/Writer/Pianist Paul Masse. Masse’s playing and arrangements deftly embody those he salutes. His quotes are terrific. Actress Beth Malone is warm and winning as celebrants’ voices.

NEXT: Jule Styne and His Many Lyricists: Distant Melody
Starting Monday December 7, 2020

About Alix Cohen (970 Articles)
Alix Cohen is the recipient of nine New York Press Club Awards for work published on this venue. Her writing history began with poetry, segued into lyrics and took a commercial detour while holding executive positions in product development, merchandising, and design. A cultural sponge, she now turns her diverse personal and professional background to authoring pieces about culture/the arts with particular interest in artists/performers and entrepreneurs. Theater, music, art/design are lifelong areas of study and passion. She is a voting member of Drama Desk and Drama League. Alix’s professional experience in women’s fashion fuels writing in that area. Besides Woman Around Town, the journalist writes for Cabaret Scenes, Broadway World, and Theater Pizzazz. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine, Times Square Chronicles, and ifashionnetwork. She lives in Manhattan. Of course.