Composer Richard Rodgers (1902-1979) and lyricist Lorenz (Larry) Hart (1895-1943) collaborated on 28 musical shows during the period 1919-1943. Upon Hart’s death in 1943, Rodgers formed a new collaboration with lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II (1895-1960) and this collaboration initiated what has become known as the “golden age of musical theater,” including nine musical comedies that garnered 34 Tony Awards, 15 Academy Awards, two Pulitzer Prizes, and two Grammy Awards. After Hammerstein’s death in 1960, Rodgers wrote music and lyrics for “No Strings” in 1962 which won a Tony Award and a Grammy Award, and then collaborated with various lyricists (Stephen Sondheim, Martin Charnin, and Sheldon Harnick) on four more shows before his death.
Jack Everly, Principal Pops Conductor of the BSO, and actress-singer Ashley Brown are well-suited for this celebration…Ms. Brown has a lovely, strong voice…
Jack Everly, Principal Pops Conductor of the BSO, and actress-singer Ashley Brown are well-suited for this celebration of “Rodgers, Hart, and Hammerstein.” Ms. Brown, known notably for her titular role in Broadway’s “Mary Poppins,” has appeared in over ten musicals in theaters around the country, released an album of standards from the Great American Songbook, and had a sold-out solo debut at Carnegie Hall with the NY Pops Orchestra. Mr. Everly conducted many performances of “Hello Dolly!” with Carol Channing on Broadway and collaborated on shows with Marvin Hamlisch.
Maestro Everly opened the program with “A Song in My Heart” which he explained was his parents’ theme song and his first experience hearing a Rodgers tune, sung by Jane Froman in the movie of the same title. He then introduced Ms. Brown. The remainder of the program was narrated by both of them, telling interesting anecdotes about the songs, the films or plays where they originated, the orchestrations and the characters and scenes in which the songs appeared. Ms. Brown has a lovely, strong voice perfectly suited for this material since she has elements of both classical and popular styles and a wide vocal range. Her breath control and diction are spot on—every word clear as a bell. Her acting ability comes through with her gestures and expressions adding to the emotion of the lyrics. Her three costume changes were quite lovely and fit the mood of each musical segment.
The BSO played the overture from the musical “The Boys From Syracuse” which had been lost for years until orchestral segments were discovered in a warehouse clearance from which the piece could be restored. An arrangement of “Lover,” “The Carousel Waltz,” and the main title song from “The King and I” were also strong and precise renditions by the BSO. “The Carousel Waltz” is the unusual opening of the 1945 musical “Carousel” and introduced the characters of the play with no singing and without an overture. Maestro Everly cleverly arranged a Rodgers and Hart medley of “My Funny Valentine,” “My Romance,” and “Little Girl Blue” for Ms. Brown. She told the audience that he first hired her to sing just after she graduated from college and was responsible for starting her career. The Rodgers and Hart segment of the evening ended with a strong performance of “Johnny One-Note” which Ms. Brown told us would have been a perfect song for Ethel Merman but was never recorded by her. She also acknowledged the inspiration of Barbra Streisand’s recording of “Where or When.”
Included in the second half of the program were two songs from the musical “Do I Hear A Waltz” with lyrics written by Stephen Sondheim (who was not acknowledged in the program). Maestro Everly explained that Oscar Hammerstein had mentored Mr. Sondheim and requested that he be his replacement as lyricist after Mr. Hammerstein’s death.
Although the musicals of Rodgers and Hart are infrequently performed today, the songs from those musicals have entered the realm of the Great American Songbook and have become standards for singers, especially cabaret and piano bar performers, worldwide. Mama Cass Elliott and Janis Joplin have recorded Rodgers and Hart songs. The Supremes recorded an entire album of their songs in the 1960s! The musical plays of Rodgers and Hammerstein continue to be revived from time to time on Broadway with new and exciting productions enhanced by modern technology, sets, and costumes.
This concert was Jack Everly’s final performance with the BSO as Principal Pops Conductor but he will be guest conducting with the BSO in the upcoming season. He started as a guest conductor under Marvin Hamlisch in 1982 and was appointed Principal Pops Conductor in 2006. He has planned programs for his audiences “with familiar and unfamiliar music that is also exciting and challenging for the orchestra.” We wish him well in his future musical endeavors, and say, in the lyrics of Oscar Hammerstein II, “So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye!”
Running time: Two hours, including a 20-minute intermission.
“Rodgers, Hart, and Hammerstein” was performed by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra on February 23, 2023, at The Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda MD 20852 (1-877-276-1444); “Rodgers, Hart, and Hammerstein” was also performed at the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St., Baltimore MD 21201 (410-783-8000). The box office at each location is open Mon.-Fri. 10 am-5 pm, Sat.-Sun. noon-5 pm, 60 minutes prior to each performance, and through intermission for walkup sales. For more information on upcoming BSO concerts, please visit here. You can order tickets at either location here.