Generations still 'Beguiled' by Rodgers-Hart tunes
The other day I was contemplating the songs of Richard Rodgers and
Lorenz Hart. Do people even know these tunes? After all, the men's
partnership ended with Hart's death in 1943. Their Broadway shows (Babes in Arms, Pal Joey)
are seldom revived. If Elvis and his ilk are considered golden oldies
by today's music lovers, then Rodgers and Hart are platinum geezers.
So what does that portend for Beguiled Again: The Songs of Rodgers and Hart, the new revue at Phoenix Theatre? Certainly, folks in their 60s and 70s will turn out to hear The Lady Is a Tramp; My Funny Valentine; Blue Moon; Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered, and dozens more. Granted, it was their parents' music, but the songs still made the playlists at their high school proms.
But what of younger theatergoers? Even the baby boomers came along too late for this pair. Mention The Lady Is a Tramp and they're more likely to think of a current pop diva.
In truth, Rodgers and Hart have survived to a greater degree in the
popular canon than many of their peers. Nothing illustrates that more
than Blue Moon, a song the duo wrote in 1934 for the movie Manhattan Melodrama.
It's been recorded by many of the greats - Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra,
Dave Brubeck, Ella Fitzgerald - but let's face it, to the MTV crowd
those folks are prehistoric.
The kids are more likely to be listening to Switch's version, which was
released in England last year. It's techno-cum-something and it's loud
but, hey, it's still Blue Moon.
This song has always struck a chord with young people. In the '50s, the
Marcels transformed it into a doo-wop masterpiece. Rodgers hated the
arrangement so much that he took out ads in the music papers urging
people not to buy it. No one paid attention, and the Marcels' version
is so ingrained in the rock pantheon that it's excerpted in Grease, though the performance is interrupted by the "mooning" sequence.
In 1969, the Grateful Dead took a shot at the tune, which actually is
an apt way of putting it. Joey Covington mangled the first verse and
didn't do much better with the rest. Perhaps it was too much power in
his flower. Last year, Rod Stewart and Eric Clapton combined forces for
a version that was truer to the composers' intent, not to mention a
pretty good rock-out.
My Romance is another song that has attracted the interest of
younger artists. Carly Simon and James Taylor each recorded versions,
with Simon's being the definitive one. My favorite Romance, though, is guitarist Joe Pass' kick-butt version on his 1999 album Unforgettable.
Many feel that Rodgers and Hart's masterpiece is My Funny Valentine, the ballad written in the '30s for Broadway's Babes in Arms. Bar none, the best take on this is Linda Ronstadt's gorgeous rendition on her 1990 album For Sentimental Reasons. Old-timers will treat that as heresy; for them, no one did it better than Judy Garland, who recorded it several times.
If you want to be pleasantly surprised by how well contemporary artists
do with Rodgers and Hart, search out a copy of Rod Stewart's 2003 CD As Time Goes By. There's a marvelous duet with Cher on Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered (from the score of Pal Joey), and despite his gravelly voice, Stewart turns Where or When (from Babes in Arms) into something special.
If nothing but the entire Rodgers and Hart catalog will satisfy you, Diana Ross is your gal. She recorded Sing Rodgers & Hart: The Complete Recordings
with the Supremes back in 1967. The album was re-released as a CD in
2002. It's not bad, although Ross has as many mannerisms as Bette Davis
in her prime. Not as many as Whitney Houston, thankfully, which is why
we can recommend the thing. Our favorite: a swinging version of Mountain Greenery.
Another catchall is Rodgers & Hart Original Cast Recordings - Vols. 1 & 2.
These are strictly for buffs. The singers are long dead - Ruth Etting,
Jeannette MacDonald, Beatrice Lillie, Al Jolson, Maurice Chevalier and
Helen Kane - but the preserved tracks give you an idea of why your
grandparents and great-grandparents fell in love with these tunes.
And don't forget the "songbooks," albums of Rodgers and Hart tunes by
the likes of Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald, Bobby Short, Rosemary
Clooney and Sarah Vaughan. Most of these are out of circulation, but
they can sometimes be found in the bins at used-record stores.
All in all, it's my guess that you will find Rodgers and Hart fans in
any generation. They may not know who wrote the tune, but if you start
singing, "Blue moon, you saw me standing alone, without a dream in my
heart, without a love of my own," their eyes will widen as they blurt
out, "I didn't know you were into pop stuff."
Reach the reporter at (602) 444-8947.