They gotta right to sing the blues -- and they're gonna do it.
Barbara Cook, Audra McDonald, Maureen McGovern and other interpreters of classic American popular music will inaugurate Lincoln Center's new "American Songbook" series of concerts by singing the work of Harold Arlen, 8 PM Feb. 5-6 at Alice Tully Hall.
Arlen, of course, is the composer best known for "Over the Rainbow," from "The Wizard of Oz," but his many Broadway and film songs -- spiced with blues -- also include "A Sleepin' Bee," "Paper Moon," "Out of This World," "Right As the Rain," "That Man That Got Away," "Accentuate the Positive," "Get Happy," "Stormy Weather" and more.
Collaborators represented in the concerts, dubbed, "Harold Arlen: I've Got a Right to Sing the Blues," include E.Y. "Yip" Harburg, Billy Rose, Ira Gershwin, Ted Koehler, Johnny Mercer and Truman Capote. His Broadway shows included Bloomer Girl, Saratoga, House of Flowers, Jamaica, St. Louis Woman and revues.
Joining Cook, McGovern and McDonald in this first in a series devoted to classic American songwriters, are Mike Renzi, Jay Leonhart (Secrets Every Smart Traveler Should Know), Ken Page (The Wiz), Richard Muenz, jazz and cabaret vocalist Diana Krall and, on tape, the late Harold Arlen. Cook is the onetime ingenue soprano who originated the roles of Cunegonde in Candide, Marian the Librarian in The Music Man and Amalia in She Loves Me. Her late-career work has been devoted to concerts and cabarets.
McGovern's rangy voice was heard in pop songs in the 1970s ("The Morning After"), but she's also known for her vocally dexterous (from scat singing to coloratura notes) concert work.
The series artistic director is Jonathan Schwartz, the WQEW New York radio host and pop-music essayist who is the son of composer Arthur Schwartz ("Dancing in the Dark"). In between songs, Schwartz will offer commentary about Arlen (born Hyman Arluck in 1905), who died in 1986.
"American Songbook" is to be an ongoing series with linked films, events and lectures on the Lincoln Center campus in Manhattan.
* The Harold Arlen program includes:
"Over the Rainbow" - McGovern & Company
"You're a Builder Upper" - Cook
"It Was Written in the Stars" - McDonald
"Let's Take a Walk Around the Block" - Page
"A Sleepin' Bee" - Leonhart
"Don't Like Goodbyes" - Muenz
"I Never Has Seen Snow"
"Paper Moon" - Renzi & Combo
"Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea" - Renzi & Combo
"Out of This World" - Renzi & Combo
"Right As the Rain" - McGovern
"Hooray for Love" - Cook
"Down With Love" - McGovern
"The Man That Got Away" - McDonald
"Last Night When We Were Young" - Arlen (taped)
"Overture: St. Louis Woman" - Orchestra
"It's a New World" Muenz -
"Accentuate the Positive" - Leonhart
"I Wonder What Became of Me?" - Cook
"Get Happy" - Muenz
"Stormy Weather" - Page
"I've Got the World on a String" - Krall
"Blues in the Night" - McGovern
"Let's Fall in Love" - McDonald
"I Had Myself a True Love" - Cook
"Finale: Hit the Road to Dreamland" - Company
At 8 PM March 5-6, "Songbook" will present "Richard Rodgers: With a Song in My Heart," outlining Rodgers' career with Lorenz Hart (Pal Joey, Babes in Arms, On Your Toes) and Oscar Hammerstein II (Oklahoma!, South Pacific, etc.).
Stars singing Rodgers' work at Alice Tully Hall will include Michael Feinstein, Harolyn Blackwell, Ann Hampton Callaway, Maria Friedman, Faith Prince (Little Me), Leonhart, Mary Cleere Haran, Mark Murphy and Wesla Whitfield.
For subsequent shows, the series will draw on the above talents, plus a pool including Margaret Whiting, Mandy Patinkin, Linda Ronstadt, John Pizzarelli (Dream), Rosemary Clooney, Vic Damone and others.
"Songbook" continues in fall 1999 and spring 2000 with four additional programs.
A 10 AM-1 PM Feb. 6 symposium, "The World of Harold Arlen," will feature a panel of specialists discussing Arlen's contributions, at the Walter Reade Theatre. It is free to "Songbook" ticket holders.
A symposium will also accompany the Rodgers concerts 10 AM-1 PM March 6 at the Kaplan Penthouse at Lincoln Center.
Designers for "Lincoln Center's American Songbook" are Wendall Harrington (projections) and Natasha Katz (lighting). The series musical director is Tony Monte. Series producer is Ira Weitzman.
Tickets run $45-$55 and are on sale now. For information, call (212) 721- 6500.
-- By Kenneth Jones