Brian d'Arcy James, Rebecca Luker, Mary Cleere Haran, Christine Ebersole and Jane Krakowski are among Broadway and cabaret stars who will sing the songs of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart in the PBS broadcast of "The Rodgers & Hart Story: Thou Swell, Thou Witty," 8-9 PM (ET) Jan. 6, 1999.
The Thirteen/WNET "Great Performances" documentary features recreations (directed by David Horn and staged by John Carrafa) of tunes from such now-obscure musicals as A Lonely Romeo (1919), Betsy (1926), The Garrick Gaieties (1925), I Married an Angel (1938) and better-known shows such as A Connecticut Yankee (1943 revival), Babes in Arms (1937), The Boys From Syracuse (1938) and Pal Joey (1940).
Songs are performed with their original orchestrations. Musical director for the special is Rob Fisher, who has been musical director for the Encores! musical theatre concert series at City Center (and conductor for Encores! CD versions of R&Hart's Pal Joey and Boys From Syracuse).
Composer Rodgers and lyricist Hart began writing shows together at Columbia University. Their song, "Any Old Place With You," made it into the Broadway musical, A Lonely Romeo. Their breakthrough was with the benefit show, The Garrick Gaieties (1925). After 1930, they also wrote Hollywood musical film scores that begat fewer hit songs for them, despite "Isn't It Romantic?" from the Maurice Chevalier picture, "Love Me Tonight."
A handful of their biggest and most enduring song successes -- "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered," "There's a Small Hotel," "Falling in Love With Love," "My Funny Valentine," "The Lady is a Tramp" and others -- were heard in Broadway shows between 1936-43. Although Rodgers collaborated with Oscar Hammerstein II in the early 1940s on Oklahoma!, he and Hart did re-collaborate to enhance their earlier musical, A Connecticut Yankee for a 1943 revival. By that time, however, the alcoholic Hart was in decline, a lonely, unhappy man with flagging self-esteem.
Hart died within a week of the revival's Nov. 17, 1943, opening. His last lyric is reputed to be the tart, dark and funny "To Keep My Love Alive," about a woman who bumps off her husbands so her romances won't fade into divorce. In the special, Christine Ebersole (Bway revivals of Oklahoma! and On Your Toes) sings the tune, from Connecticut Yankee.
Hart's last words are reported to have been: "What have I lived for?"
Rodgers' star rose high and bright over the next 17 years as he wrote groundbreaking musicals such as Carousel, South Pacific and The King and I with Hammerstein.
"The Rodgers & Hart Story," directed and produced by David Thompson, draws contrasts between the very different Rodgers and Hart: The former being married, handsome, urbane, focused, the latter homosexual, troubled, alcoholic and frivolous.
The program includes interviews with Hart's sister-in-law, Dorothy Hart, Rodgers' daughter, Mary Rodgers, and Hart friend Larry Adler.
Songs included in the special include:
"Falling in Love With Love" (The Boys From Syracuse) sung by Rebecca Luker (Bway revivals of Show Boat, The Sound of Music), Karyn Overstreet, Alet Oury, Kira Burke, Susan Pfau.
"Any Old Place With You" (A Lonely Romeo) sung by Stanley Mathis.
"This Funny World" (Betsy) sung by cabaret star Mary Cleere Haran (who has a Hart CD on shelves called "This Funny World.").
"Where or When" (Babes in Arms) sung by James and Egan.
"The Lady is a Tramp" (Babes in Arms) sung by Ebersole.
"Spring is Here" (I Married an Angel) sung by Ron Raines.
"Sing For Your Supper" (Boys From Syracuse) sung by Luker and Debbie Shapiro Gravitte (who previously sang it in the Encores! Concert and on CD), joined by Ebersole.
"You Mustn't Kick It Around" (Pal Joey) sung by Mathis, Jennifer Frankel, Julia Fowler, Dormeshia Sumbry, Ayodele Casel.
"To Keep My Love Alive" (Connecticut Yankee) sung by Ebersole.
"My Funny Valentine" sung by Jane Krakowski (TV's "Ally McBeal" and Broadway's Grand Hotel.). Check local listings to confirm broadcast time and date.