Reviewed by Jerry Kraft
Richard Rodgers wrote "I Remember Mama," the last of his forty Broadway musicals, in 1979. The lyricist was Martin Charnin. In the years since then, his style of musical, with lush melody, meticulously crafted lyrics and classically constructed drama built on deep, authentic sentiment has become passe, almost archaic. Except that when that music and those shows are revisited, the beauty and strength of the work, when performed by talented singers and musicians, re-emerges as vital and immediate as ever.
Martin Charnin now lives in Seattle, and he has assembled a retrospective tribute to his former colleague, America's greatest composer of musical theatre. Presented by Showtunes, the organization devoted to concert performances of lost, under-appreciated or forgotten musicals, Charnin and a fine company of four singers and three musicians present a wealth of amazing composition and a survey of the course of the Broadway musical over half a century. With such a huge catalogue it was probably unavoidable that the show be a bit too long, but Charnin's insider's view of Rodgers and his remarkable collaborators was fascinating and the music was, for me, unexpectedly spellbinding. This may not be where the Broadway musical is at today, and may not be where it ever goes again, but oh was it once a wonderful time and place.
Beginning with "The Sweetest Sound" performed by Shelly Burch, then joined by Christian Duhamel, Richard Gray and Jimi Ray Malary, the trademark sound of Richard Rodgers' music led to Charnin's introduction of the lyricists who formed such great partnerships with him over the course of his career. Lorenz Hart, Oscar Hammerstein II, Stephen Sondheim, Sheldon Harnick and Martin Charnin each brought his own distinctive voice to Roger's melodies. In the process, an extraordinary collection of shows came to life.
There are so many songs in this show that it would be both pointless and impossible to review them all, and many are so familiar, so famously introduced by great stars, that simply saying they were successfully presented here is not faint praise. Still, these performers bring their own style to the songs, keeping it very much stage music, music that lives naturally within a show, but also making this evening a free-standing concert.
Jimi Ray Malary did a remarkable job on the musical monologue "Soliloquy" from "Carousel" and successfully gave us a taste of the entire dramatic context of the piece. Christian Duhamel found enormous grace in "I Do Not Know A Day I Did Not Love You" from "Two by Two" and Richard Gray had a great good time with "There Is Nothing Like a Dame" from "South Pacific." Diana Huey, a young singer with a lovely, rich voice brought sweetness and dignity to the almost forgotten "I Remember Mama" from the show of the same name. Even Martin Charnin, allowing the words to say all that they can, delivered a moving "Carefully Taught." Best of all, the ensemble worked very well together, getting some terrific energy from songs like "Happy Talk," "Some Enchanted Evening" and a medley where they covered (or at least acknowledged) thirteen songs in just over three minutes. Throughout the performance, excellent accompaniment was given by pianists Mark Rabe and Dwight Beckmeyer and percussionist Alec Wilmart. For all the success of this ensemble, one member really stood out. Shelly Burch is a veteran Broadway actress (and married to Martin Charnin) and even more than her lovely, strong voice she brought such dramatic conviction to her songs that they were simply in a different league. She was enchanting with "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" and made "Ten Cents a Dance" into a life-story. Her performance of "An Old Man" was so tender and earned that it literally brought tears to my eyes. I thought she was simply wonderful.
"Rodgers &" was more than a simple review, a retrospective on well-known work from the Golden Age of Broadway musicals. It was an appreciation and a re-discovery of a unique musical talent and the collaborations that created the through-line of the musical stage in the past century. Showtunes should be proud of this fine production and as appreciative as we are of Mr. Charnin's generosity and talent.