Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart were introduced as Columbia University students in 1919. Their first published collaboration, “Any Old Place with You,” contained such immortal lines as I’m gonna corner ya in California. Broadway’s The Garrick Gaieties a mere six years later, yielded the hit song “Manhattan,” which propelled these young men to a joint career that produced 500 songs and 28 stage musicals before Hart’s untimely death in 1943.
Raconteur/ Vocalist Harvey Granat takes particular pleasure in this show of iconic, often romantic material that must be a pleasure to sing. His special guest is Hart’s nephew, Larry Hart, whose father Teddy was a musical theater actor and whose mother Dorothy wrote Thou Swell, Thou Witty–The Life and Lyrics of Lorenz Hart. Mr. Hart flew from Washington, D.C. for today’s event “to support The American Songbook.” Symbiotic pianist David Lahm, Granat’s Sancho Panza, again accompanies on piano.
Encouraging his audience to sing along, our host opens with a sentimental “Manhattan.” The savvy crowd joins in on this and other songs without a lyric sheet in sight. Two from A Connecticut Yankee, for which Hart secured a free (?!) six month option from the Twain estate, follow: the jaunty “Thou Swell” and a long-lined, plaintive “My Heart Stood Still,” during which I observe music course through Granat as his shoulders rise with octaves.
The latter song Hart concurs, was inspired by a wild Paris taxi ride, after which one of the shaken passengers commented, “I think my heart stood still.” Rodgers and Hart looked at one another in recognition. Shortly thereafter, the composer brought a composition to his partner saying, “I’ve got the music.” “To what?” Hart replied, having completely forgotten. (Music came first with these two.)
Spring is Here was both an unsuccessful show that nonetheless generated Rodgers favorite song “With a Song in My Heart,” and the title of a later number written for a different musical. Granat’s tender reverie and Lahm’s delicate piano do it justice. Also badly reviewed, Higher and Higher, with young Vera Ellen and June Allyson in the chorus, was the source of “It Never Entered My Mind,” a wistful lament in our host’s capable hands. If you ever meet Harvey Granat, ask him to tell you the story of the show’s trained seal.
We hear a waltzy “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World” and the exquisite “My Romance.” “I love this one,” an audience member inadvertently comments aloud. “Then, I’ll do it for you,” the vocalist warmly responds. It drifts down like feathers. Both of these feature in Billy Rose’s Jumbo which filled 5,000 Hippodrome seats in 1935.
From Babes in Arms, Granat sings “I Wish I Was in Love Again” and “My Funny Valentine.” Midday at the 92nd Street Y and women are quietly swooning. Are you aware that the lead character’s name was Valentine?! Also from that musical, “Where or When,” was the first song written about déjà vu. Rodgers’ autobiography notes that psychiatrists wrote to say they used the number in therapy.
General reaction to the idea of Pal Joey, whose eloquent book was by John O’Hara, was that no one would come to see a show about a heel. “How can you draw sweet water from a foul well?” (New York Times critic, Brooks Atkinson) The show’s star, Gene Kelly, inadvertently paved the way for heels like those created by Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II as well as those in Guys and Dolls.
When Atkinson reviewed the revival, he gave it a rave, not the least because of Elaine Stritch’s ersatz striptease “Zip.” The room sings “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered” with Granat feeding us the lyrics. “Come on now, big ending!” We comply.
“Your uncle was the most confessional of theater lyricists. He could wax beautifully poetic about love, yet it escaped him,” Granat remarks turning to Larry Hart. Lorenz Hart, his genial nephew tells us, was deeply insecure about his height and convinced he was ugly. The more depressed he became, the more he drank.
When several women turned down his proposals of marriage, Hart assumed it was because of his appearance, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. He was loved, we’re told, but none of the women could deal with his alcoholism. When the lyricist died at age 48, we lost decades of great songs to come.
This afternoon ends with a medley including such as “Everything I’ve Got Belongs to You,” There’s a Small Hotel,” and “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was.” Granat’s respect for and awareness of lyrics, his easy style, and that mellow voice captivate. We’ll turn Manhattan into an isle of joy…
Harvey Granat: The Music of Rodgers & Hart
Harvey Granat, Vocals and Stories
Special Guest- Larry Hart (nephew of Lorenz Hart)
The 92Street Y
92nd Street at Lexington Avenue
April 7, 2016
NEXT: Thursday May 5: The Music of Harold Arlen with Special Guest Rex Reed