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  'Sing for your supper'  -  a celebration of the songs of  Rodgers and Hart: Mary Carewe, Maria Friedman, Graham Bickley, Simon Green, Tim Howar, Paul Saunders (reeds), James Pusey (guitar), Dave Whitford (bass), James Gambold (drums and percussion), David Shrubsole (piano and musical director); Cadogan Hall, London, 6.8.2009 (BBr)

Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart: songs from Babes in Arms (1937); The Boys from Syracuse (1938); The Garrick Gaieties (1925 and 1926); Love Me Tonight (1932); Pal Joey (1940) and many more.

After Cole Porter some of the most intelligent, witty and downright enjoyable, not to mention occasionally risqué, lyrics were written by Lorenz Hart, and when these words were married to music by Richard Rodgers you have a recipe for success. So it would seem, but Rodgers and Hart, like Porter, had their share of flops in their time, but the individual songs still remain as testimony to their creator’s greatness.

Using the same team as last year’s excellent celebration of Cole Porter, but with Canadian Tim Howar taking the place of Daniel Evans, and with a bigger band, this cabaret was a true delight. Between Simon Green’s telling us the story of Rodgers and Hart we were treated to 31 of their greatest songs, some of which were not necessarily their most well known. All possible vocal combinations were explored – from solo to quintet – in arrangements by Shrubsole, which all had a real period feel, some of the songs coming up afresh and making us reconsider them; a very relaxed version of Manhattan sat side by side with a “big” performance of This Can’t be Love and a truly haunting version of the Why Can’t I?, a duet for the women. There was also humour – What Can You Do With a Man?, a duet for a bemused Bickley and forthright Carewe.

Each song appeared as a polished diamond and full marks to all concerned for the planning of such a marvelous entertainment. However, there was, for me, one stumbling block – the use of amplification. The singers insisted on using their microphones à la pop singer close to the mouth so that the p’s popped, a small point to be sure, but more importantly in the faster songs words were quickly lost because of the sound produced. Perhaps the sound was very good in an empty hall, at rehearsal, but once you put an audience in place the sound will change. Even in a straight forward song, and such an easy going performance, as I Wish I Were in Love Again the wonderful line (and many like it)

- When love congeals/It soon reveals/The faint aroma of performing seals

was lost.

But there was much that could be heard. The two big showstoppers were given to the women – Mary Carewe delivered a powerhouse performance of Johnny One Note who

- Sang out with gusto/And just overlorded the place

and that’s what Carewe did. The audience went wild. She was only slightly pipped by Maria Friedman’s magnificent performance of the great Bewitched Bothered and Bewildered. Starting as a plaintive soliloquy, in the most understated of manners, she built the song slowly, but surely, through each of the three refrains plus encore and reprise choruses so that by the time she reached

- Vexed again,/Perplexed again,/Thank God I can be oversexed again

here was a woman done wrong and knowing it was going to put things right, until at the end, where she has finally taken control of her life:

- Romance – finis;/Your chance – finis;/Those ants that invaded my pants – finis;/Bewitched bothered and bewildered no more!

we were with her every inch of the way.

After a raucous version of Lady is a Tramp from the full company they returned to the platform to give us the most tender performance of Where or When as a quintet, which sent us out into a rainy London night and I couldn’t help thinking of one of Hart’s lyrics which seemed to sum up the quality of what we had heard:

- Thou swell!/Thou witty!/Thou sweet!/Thou grand!

And those words, swell, witty, sweet and grand seem to be the right epithets for this show.

Bob Briggs


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