There’s no question that Richard Rodgers (1902-1979) and Oscar Hammerstein II (1895-1960) represent The Golden Age of Musicals. Though 1943’s Oklahoma! introduced songs carrying plot forward, character development, and Agnes de Mille’s) ballet to Broadway; though lyrics with social conscience voiced subject matter greatly untouched by peers; though perpetually revived due to universal appeal, the work is thought of as set in time.
Ever surprising, vocalist Meg Flather successfully disputes this with a beautifully crafted show in which contemporary relevance creates a fresh take. The piece is as well researched – history selective and illuminating – as it is thoughtfully performed. Sequencing is masterful. Arrangements support lyrical intention.
“Cockeyed Optimist” (South Pacific) and “It Might As Well Be Spring” (State Fair) set the tone with a slowing down and savoring of lyrics. Flather is not just performing, she’s sharing. Personalization is clear throughout. An occasional spoken phrase or lingering past a written lyric line adds naturalness. “My Favorite Things” (The Sound of Music) emerges as if compiling a list in real time.
“I Can’t Say No” (Oklahoma!) presents what was, in essence, “a 1906 female celebrating her sexuality.” Though music is western, the vocalist doesn’t offer commonly exaggerated accent. She sings from the point of view of a woman (of a certain age) today – celebratory and, perhaps, a little surprised at herself. Its stance is completely empathetic.
“Everybody’s Got a Home But Me” (Pipe Dream), which might land quieter, is introduced as “an anthem for those people coming to this country seeking freedom.” I rode by a house, with the windows lighted up/Looking pretty as a Christmas tree/And I said to myself,/As I rode by myself/Everybody’s got a home but me…Make no mistake, this is a thinking artist. Flather aptly looks to the horizon here instead of making her usual laser connection to audience members.
Following this with “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught” (South Pacific), arm extended, fist shaken, brow furrowed, is just right. Apparently the commander of the navy requested the song be eliminated. Next, smartly sequenced, comes the “A Puzzlement” (The King and I) during which the vocalist wrestles with frustration most of us feel reading the morning newspaper.
Three love songs (from Cinderella, Oklahoma!, Me & Juliet) are colored outside the lines by experience its theater characters didn’t possess. Imagine “10 Minutes Ago” with a shocked gulp, “People Will Say We’re in Love” performed with actual concern, “No Other Love” tackling discrimination. Change? As Hammerstein said, “slow progress.”
Flather is “grateful Rodgers and Hammerstein took marriage off its pedestal, teaching us the mess is the good stuff.” Songs from The King and I and Carousel show just that. Arrangements are textured and sympathetic unto themselves, bridging seamless. Pointing out that the pair both wrote and hired strong female characters leads to a passionate “Shall I Tell You what I Think of You?” (The King and I). Lyrics are bitten, spit out.
Perspective on the future comes from the artist’s father as exemplified by “A Hundred Million Miracles” (Flower Drum Song): My father says/That children keep growing/Rivers keep flowing too…and “Impossible” (Cinderella.) Flather even frames the title song to Oklahoma! with perception. We close with“The Sound of Music” may it ever be heard – live when possible.
This is a terrific show. Meg Flather’s in fine, warm voice. Grand material is rejuvenated. Go.
Caveats: An overture of The Carousel Waltz could profitably be jettisoned. The show is a tad too long. Some songs might improve with softer delivery.
Opening photo by Helane Blumfield
Additional photos by Jeff Harnar
Meg Flather: Rodgers & Hammerstein 2021
Director- Lennie Watts
MD/Piano- Tracy Stark
Don’t Tell Mama
343 West 46 Street
Additional Dates: October 17, Nov 21, December 29 at 6 p.m.