Harvey Granat Presents The American Songbook: Rodgers & Hart

Harvey Granat is a Broadway producer, cabaret vocalist, and historian/educator of American popular song. His “classes” are illuminating entertainments. Accompanist for Granat – the very talented Rob Kelly.

Today’s Guests: Jamie DeRoy: Producer/Performer/Cable Television Host who can be seen every other Sunday on YouTube 
Composer/Lyricist/Director Barry Kleinbort, currently writing the script for a show about Irving Berlin in Hollywood and a musical centering on Vermeer.                                                                                            Legendary Cabaret Artist Steve Ross                                                  Special Guest: Lorenz Hart, Nephew of Lyricist Larry Hart, Son of Actor Teddy Hart. His mother Dorothy wrote Thou Swell, Thou WittyThe Life and Lyrics of Lorenz Hart.

Jamie DeRoy, Barry Kleinbort, Steve Ross

Today we celebrate Rodgers and Hart, from romance to wit, from melancholy to buoyant cheer.

Richard Rodgers came from an affluent, cultured, doctor’s family and started composing at nine. He provided music for charity shows at an early age. Dick was well turned out, athletic and gregarious. Hart’s father has been described as essentially a con man, but one who came up winning. He took his son to theater and vaudeville from the age of six. In the closet and under five feet tall, Larry was insecure. The boys met in 1919. Rodgers was 17, Hart 23.

Their first successful collaboration, “Any Old Place with You,” contained such immortal lines as I’ll go to hell for ya in PhiladelphiaI’m gonna corner ya in California. Steve Ross’s live rendition is utterly charming. “And step-and-touch-and-turn” he adds between lyrics.

Through family connections, the song was picked up for a Broadway revue by Lew Fields (brother of lyricist Dorothy). Six long years passed. Rodgers was so frustrated he accepted a job as a children’s underwear salesman. At this point the duo auditioned for a Theatre Guild benefit and, on the basis of “I’ll Take Manhattan,” were commissioned to mount a revue called The Garrick Gaities. (Rodgers would never be a salesman.) The show (which unexpectedly ran a year) and song propelled them to a joint career that produced 500 songs and 28 stage musicals before Hart’s untimely death in 1943. (Richard Rodgers died of a heart attack in 1979.)

Granat: “Jamie, you’ve been a producer on many shows. Imagine they come to you with no hits, no track record. Are you open?”                                DeRoy: “I’m very open. A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder came to me like that though I’m not usually the first person they go to. We have to be receptive to new writers, it’s incredibly important.”

Granat: “What about the choice between a revival or a new project?”
DeRoy: “Investors make more money with a new project. The rights have already been given away with an established piece.” Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen are examples of risks that paid off. Kleinbort points out that revues were prevalent. Our host asks about the prospects of a revue today. “Well nigh impossible,” Kleinbort responds. “I think the last successful Broadway revue was 1979’s Sugar Babies. When TV happened, it was the end of revues.”

Lorenz Hart

Kleinbort places Larry Hart “up top” in the pantheon of lyric writers. “He had wit and depth – glad to be unhappy is brilliant. Hart was able to give voice to things that hadn’t been in lyrics up till then, and he did it in plainspeak. He was also sensitive to Rodgers music (written first) placing accents and rhyme in the right place.” (Lyrics came first when Rodgers moved on to Hammerstein.) A writer who scribbled on cocktail napkins and receipts, Hart may have had instinctual talent.

From 1925 to 1931 Rodgers and Hart had fifteen scores featured on Broadway. The pair then tried their hands in Hollywood. “My Heart Stood Still,” “Thou Swell,” and “Spring is Here,” the title song from a pre-code musical film of the same name, came out of those years.

Granat recites the latter lyric with feeling, then asks Hart whether his uncle in fact, was that man. “It’s part of who he was, but only part. He was also capable of upbeat romantic songs. (See The Boys From Syracuse.) Even my mother never understood his personality.” This Hart’s mom took care of Larry who would often wind up at her door after a drunken binge.

Though the film Spring is Here was not a success, a second fine song came from it. Granat performs “With a Song in My Heart.” It’s full and resonant, but not forced. Piano is lyrical. After avoiding the interview question for years, Hart later admitted this was his favorite. Thanks to broadcaster/ journalist David Alpern, we then see a clip of Maurice Chevalier (et al) singing “Isn’t It Romantic?” from the 1932 film Love Me Tonight with Jeanette MacDonald. It’s a wonderful, unexpected sequence. Watch on You Tube. The song has been widely covered.

Ross then returns with a warm, sentimental rendition of “You’re Nearer” from the film version of Broadway’s Too Many Girls (a football musical). “He and She” out of The Boys From Syracuse follows prefaced byOnly you can tell dear viewers, whether they’re happy.” SHE: He was a man who was very fond of women./HE: She was a girl who was very fond of men./HE: She had a taste for both corpulent and slim men./SHE: He wouldn’t look at a lady under ten…arrives deadpan droll and light.

“You can take a cabaret standard and do it so many ways” leads us into another song from Syracuse, “Falling in Love with Love.” Instead of the usually jaunty delivery, Ross makes it wistful, sad, and quite beautiful. Facial expression is touching.

Rob Kelly and Harvey Granat

The collaborators’ next hit was the spectacle Jumbo. Billy Rose took over New York’s failing Hippodrome, with 5,000 seats the largest theater in the world. The impresario filled it with circus acts, Paul Whiteman, Jimmy Durante, and Rosie the elephant. For this extravaganza the songwriters created “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World,” “Little Girl Blue,’ and “My Romance.” Granat sings the last with heartfelt gravitas from a place of experience.

Apparently Rose ran out of money and went to Jock Whitney for funding. Granat: “Did any of your shows run out of money, Jamie and how do you determine whether to throw more money at something?”

DeRoy: “The Norman Conquests got raves across the board but ran out of money. Yes, I’ve unfortunately been in that situation several times. I think of Gentleman’s Guide (to Love and Murder) – four Tony Awards including Best Musical and Angels in America (Tony Award for Best Play and The Pultizer Prize) Productions went out on limbs to keep them going.”

Kleinbort: “It was ever thus. Rodgers and Hart’s first two shows, Dearest Enemy and The Girlfriend ran out of money, but what they had was radio. When people appreciated songs they heard, they’d go to the shows. The last song I remember having that effect was “Memories” (from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats). Granat comments that a six month run was considered successful then.

Their next show, On Your Toes was the first to revolve around a ballet, George Balanchine’s “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue” which is performed today as a stand-alone piece. The choreographer stayed with them through Babes in Arms, I Married an Angel,and The Boys From Syracuse (Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors, with one of the Dromios played by Teddy Hart.) He and Hart became knock-around friends.

Granat tell us that Babes in Arms was inspired by the collaborators coming across a bunch of teenagers being sent to a work farm because their actor parents had to go on tour to make money. Rodgers and Hart overheard one say, “I’ve got an idea, let’s put on a show” (to raise money so the adults wouldn’t have to go). We watch a clip of “I Wish I Were in Love Again” with Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney. “The score was extraordinary. It’s around 83 years later.”

“My Funny Valentine” and “Where or When?” (The first song about déjà vu) debuted with that show as did “The Lady is a Tramp” (later recycled for Pal Joey). We watch a clip of Frank Sinatra singing the latter as if compiling a shopping list at the same time – musically on target, put nowhere near lyrical meaning. Granat asks DeRoy what she’d do if he came to her with an idea of a musical about a nightclub owner who’s a real heel. The producer responds that it’s the execution that counts.

Kleinbort tells us that in his review for Pal Joey Brooks Atkinson rhetorically asked, “Can you draw sweet water from a foul well?” Morality shadowed the piece. It wasn’t until a revival 12 years later that the musical hit its stride. Even Atkinson changed his opinion then. “The laughs on me is one of my favorites lines. It was shocking at the time,” he remarks.

By the next two shows, By Jupiter and a revival of A Connecticut Yankee (in King Arthur’s Court), Hart’s alcoholism was acute. He appeared at the opening of Yankee drunk and obtrusive and was taken home. Later the lyricist was found in a gutter on Eighth Avenue and driven to the hospital with pneumonia.

Rodgers and Hart famously argued through their professional relationship though Rodgers has said it was never personal. Hart was stubborn about changing even a word. Rodgers fraternized with café society, Hart found his entertainment in Harlem. Rodgers was disciplined, Hart delinquent in his work habits. He referred to Larry as “my favorite blight and partner.” Rodgers dated and married, Hart never found companionship. But look what they created.

Granat: “This was an extraordinary partnership.”

NEXT: Thursday December3 at noon–Harvey Granat presents Carole Bayer Sager with Ms. Sager and Guest Performers Marissa Mulder and Cheryl Segall.

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About Alix Cohen (964 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.