|Hal Cazalet, Lauren Worsham, Mary Testa, and John Brancy|
Count on Steven Blier to assemble a gifted group of singers who are comfortable with genres from classical art song to Broadway to the Beatles. Count on Steven Blier to dream up a thrilling theme. Count on Steven Blier to curate enough songs to fill out the theme. Count on Steven Blier to titillate the audience with tidbits about the composers. Count on Steven Blier to tickle the ivories and your ears with his arranging and playing. And count on Steven Blier to write a fascinating essay about the program, instead of the customary boring program notes.
The theme of last night's concert at Merkin Concert Hall was "Rodgers, Rogers & Guettel"; three generations of America's own musical dynasty. The first set of songs illustrated Richard Rodgers partnership with Lorenz Hart as lyricist and were composed in the 1920's and 1930's. Our personal favorite of this group was "Maybe It's Me" from the 1926 musical Peggy-Ann. We loved soprano Lauren Worsham's charming style and were delighted by Mr. Hart's clever rhymes (i.e. senator/progenitor).
In the 1940's, Mr. Rodgers produced some of his finest music in collaboration with lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II. Mezzo-soprano Mary Testa sang the insightful "The Gentleman Is a Dope" which reminded us of how we tend to disparage what we cannot achieve.
Baritone John Brancy performed "Some Enchanted Evening" in a highly personal fashion that enchanted us, pouring that old wine into some new flavorful oak barrels, adding nuance upon nuance.
Mr. Rodgers collaborated with Stephen Sondheim in the 60's and "Bargaining" from Do I Hear a Waltz? with it's humorous and clever lyrics was well performed by tenor Hal Cazalet.
Mary Rodgers, Richard's daughter, wrote some fine music in the 60's and last night's program included a number of them that had gone unpublished for one reason or another. She is better known today as a writer of children's books but it was a real gift from NYFOS to share these songs with us. She died just two years ago.
One of the songs was familiar to us--"The Boy From...." with hilarious lyrics by Mr. Sondheim; it was part of a revue called The Mad Show and may have been a send-up of a song "The Girl from Ipanema". Ms. Testa is at her best in comedy and everything about her delivery was on point.
Ms. Rogers also worked with lyricist Marshall Barer on a musical called Once Upon a Mattress. "Happily Ever After" was delightfully performed by Ms. Testa, Mr. Cazalet, and Mr. Brancy. This satire of fairy tales made us think of Sondheim's Into the Woods which appeared in 1986.
The third member of the family to be honored by NYFOS was Ms. Rogers' son Adam Guettel, whose music is very much of our time, melding influences from several genres and time periods.
Ms. Worsham was absolutely charming as Clara from Light in the Piazza singing the title song of Mr. Guettels's 2003 musical.
An earlier work from his 1998 Myths and Hymns, entitled "Awaiting You" was sung by Mr. Brancy who employed all manner of vocal colors and dynamic variety. The writing for piano was particularly complex and turbulent.
Mr. Blier's essay about the Rodgers clan touched upon the many problems of this musical dynasty but we prefer to focus on the musical gifts they have given to us. We understand that Mr. Guettel married just two years ago so it's a bit too soon to know if the family gift will be perpetuated!
(c) meche kroop