Rogers and Hart

Rodgers and Hart were an American songwriting partnership of composer Richard Rodgers (1902 – 1979) and the lyricist Lorenz Hart (1895 – 1943). They worked together on 28 stage musicals and over 500 songs from 1919 until Hart’s death in 1943.[1]

Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart were introduced in 1919, when both attended Columbia University,[2] when asked to write an amateur club show. After writing together for several years, they produced their first successful Broadway musical, The Garrick Gaieties, in 1925, which introduced their hit song, “Manhattan” and led to a series of successful musicals and films.[1] By the end of the 1920s they were among the most popular songwriters in America, but they turned to working in the movies with the advent of sound.[2] They wrote several popular songs for film during the mid-1930s, such as “Isn’t It Romantic?” and “It’s Easy to Remember“, but they soon returned to Broadway with Billy Rose‘s Jumbo (1935).[2]

Many of their stage musicals from the late 1930s have been made into films, such as On Your Toes (1936) and Babes in Arms (1937). Pal Joey (1940), termed their “masterpiece”,[2] has a book by The New Yorker writer John O’Hara. He adapted his own short stories featuring a title character, who is a heel. So unflinching was the portrait that critic Brooks Atkinson famously asked in his review “Although it is expertly done, how can you draw sweet water from a foul well?” When the show was revived in 1952, audiences had learned to accept and enjoy darker material on Broadway (thanks in large part to Rodgers’ work with Oscar Hammerstein). The new production ran considerably longer than the original and was called a masterpiece and a classic by reviewers. Atkinson, reviewing the revival, wrote that “it renews confidence in the professionalism of the theatre.”[3]

Elaine Stritch singing the Rogers & Hart song, ‘You Took Advantage Of Me”

Time Magazine devoted a cover story to Rodgers and Hart (September 26, 1938). They wrote that their success “rests on a commercial instinct that most of their rivals have apparently ignored”. The article also noted the “spirit of adventure.” “As Rodgers and Hart see it, what was killing musicomedy [sic] was its sameness, its tameness, its eternal rhyming of June with moon.”[4]

1964 Chet Baker performs “Isn’t It Romantic” from the motion picture, “Love Me Tonight” with Jeanette MacDonald in 1932

Here’s Jeanette’s version of the song

Their songs have long been favorites of cabaret singers and jazz artists. For example, Ella Fitzgerald recorded their songbook. Andrea Marcovicci based one of her cabaret acts entirely on Rodgers and Hart songs.[5]

Hart’s lyrics, facile, vernacular, dazzling, sometimes playful, sometimes melancholic, raised the standard for Broadway songwriting. “His ability to write cleverly and to come up with unexpected, polysyllabic rhymes was something of a trademark, but he also had the even rarer ability to write with utmost simplicity and deep emotion.”[6] Rodgers, as a creator of melodies, ranks with Jerome Kern and Irving Berlin.

Ella Fitzgerald singing, “Blue Moon” from the Rogers & Hart Songbook album

Their shows belong to the era when musicals were revue-like and librettos were not much more than excuses for comic turns and music cues. Still, just as their songs were a cut above, so did the team try to raise the standard of the musical form in general. Thus, A Connecticut Yankee (1927) was based on Mark Twain‘s novel, and The Boys From Syracuse (1938) on William Shakespeare‘s The Comedy of Errors. “They had always considered the integration of story and music a crucial factor in a successful show.” They used dance significantly in their work, using the ballets of George Balanchine.[7]

Here’s Wynn Murray in 1937 singing, “Poor Johnny One Note” from the musical, Babes In Arms. Rogers & Hart didn’t write too many novelty songs. Most of the compositions were ballads and dance numbers. The lyrics follow below:

JOHNNY ONE NOTE

Johnny could only sing one note
And the note he sang was this:
Aaaaaaaaaaaah!

Poor Johnny One Note
sang out with gusto
And just overlorded the space
Poor Johnny One Note
yelled willy-nilly
Until he was blue in the face
For holding one note was his ace

Couldn’t hear the brass
Couldn’t hear the drum
He was in a class
By himself, by gum!

Poor Johnny One Note
Got in “Aida”
Indeed a great chance to be brave
He took his one note
Howled like the North Wind
Brought forth wind that made critics rave,
While Verdi turned round in his grave!

Couldn’t hear the flute
Or the big trombone
Ev’ry one was mute
Johnny stood alone.

Cats and dogs stopped yapping
Lions in the zoo
All were jealous at Johnny’s big trill
Thunder claps stopped clapping,
Traffic ceased its roar,
And they tell us Niagra stood still!
He stopped the train whistles,
Boat whistles,
steam whistles,
Cop whistles,
all whistles bowed to his skill

Sing Johnny One Note,
Sing out with gusto and
Just overwhelm all the crowd,
Aaaaaaaah!!

So sing Johnny One Note, out loud!!
Sing Johnny One Note
Sing Johnny One Note out loud!

Comparisons between Rodgers and Hart and the successor team of Rodgers and Hammerstein are inevitable. Hammerstein’s lyrics project warmth, sincere optimism, and occasional corniness. Hart’s lyrics showed greater sophistication in subject matter, more use of overt verbal cleverness, and more of a “New York” or “Broadway” sensibility. The archetypal Rodgers and Hart song, “Manhattan,” rhymes “The great big city’s a wondrous toy/Just made for a girl and boy” in the first stanza, then reprises with “The city’s glamor can never spoil/The dreams of a boy and goil” in the last. Many of the songs (“Falling in Love with Love“, “Little Girl Blue“, “My Funny Valentine“) are wistful or sad, and emotional ambivalence seems to be perceptible in the background of even the sunnier songs. For example, “You Took Advantage of Me” appears to be an evocation of amorous joy, but the very title suggests some doubt as to whether the relationship is mutual or exploitative.

Here’s Benny Goodman playing “Small Hotel” from the Broadway Musical, “On Your Toes” originally staged in 1936 and then revived in 1983. I got to see the 1983 production. I enjoyed it so much, I went to see it three times! The cast was terrific. It included, Kitty Carlisle, Dina Merrill, and Christine Andreas.

Stage and Film Productions

[8]

Songs

According to Chuck Denison, “My Heart Stood Still” is one of Rodgers and Harts’ most enduring hits. Their song “Blue Moon” was used in the 1934 movie Manhattan Melodrama as the title song. The song was re-written and Glen Grey and the Casa Loma Orchestra recorded it in 1936, and that version topped the charts for 3 weeks. It again was #1 in 1961, with the Elvis Presley version.[9]

Frederick Nolan writes that “My Romance” (written for Jumbo) “features some of the most elegantly wistful lyrics…[it] is, quite simply, one of the best songs Rodgers and Hart ever wrote.”[10]

Other of their many hits include “Here In My Arms,” “Mountain Greenery,” “My Heart Stood Still,” “The Blue Room,” “Ten Cents a Dance,” “Dancing on the Ceiling,” “Lover,” “Mimi,” and “Have You Met Miss Jones?,” [11]

List of well-known songs

[12]

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

Advertisements

Leave a comment

No comments yet.

Comments RSS TrackBack Identifier URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s