Lyricists Get Spotlight in Rodgers &… Concerts at Y; Panaro, White, Burch, Charnin Sing

News   Lyricists Get Spotlight in Rodgers &… Concerts at Y; Panaro, White, Burch, Charnin Sing A survey of composer Richard Rodgers' songs with his five primary lyricists will be heard Jan. 10-12 in the 92nd Street Y's "Lyrics & Lyricists" presentation, Rodgers &…, curated, narrated and sung by the last lyricist the master worked with — Martin Charnin, who performs with guest artists.
Martin Charnin
Martin Charnin Photo by Aubrey Reuben

Charnin, who wrote lyrics for the Rodgers-composed musicals Two by Two (1970) and I Remember Mama (1979), is one of (technically) six lyricists represented in the performances. The Rodgers & … revue (which Charnin says is worthy of a commercial life somewhere) includes historical context, personal anecdotes and 65 songs Rodgers wrote with Lorenz Hart, Oscar Hammerstein II, Stephen Sondheim, Sheldon Harnick, Charnin and (No. 6) Rodgers himself. (The Y subtitles the show Inside Five Collaborations, which doesn't count the songs for which Rodgers wrote both music and lyrics — for No Strings and the film "The Sound Music").

Tony Award winner Charnin, who also directs the show, told Playbill.com on Jan. 9 that fans will discover "interesting verses that have not been heard, and first passes at songs that were written and revised."

He added, "There will also be stuff from Rex and I Remember Mama that are not exactly on your Rodgers Top 40 list."

The show's performers (singing with a two-piano accompaniment) include Alton Fitzgerald White (Ragtime), Shelly Burch (Nine), Hugh Panaro (Lestat, Show Boat, The Phantom of the Opera), Michelle Liu Coughlin and Rich Gray (Seattle's Love Is Love). Keith Levenson is musical director.

Rodgers &… will represent Charnin's first time singing in New York City since the 1980s. He's best known as the director and lyricist of 1977's Annie. He is also the director of all major revivals of the hit, including the recent 30th anniversary Equity tour (which spawned a cast album). That production was recently resurrected as a non-Equity venture now traveling the nation, with a hope to play China, he said. With composer Rodgers, lyricist Charnin wrote songs for the 1970 Noah's Ark musical, Two by Two, which starred Danny Kaye as Noah. It ran less than a year, despite an affordably small cast and the star power of Kaye.

Charnin has recently rewritten Two by Two, added cut songs back into it, and reconceived it. He tested it quietly at a regional theatre and is hoping that it finds a wider life. Some of that material will surface in Rodgers &…

Fans of the Two by Two score cherish the standout ballad "I Do Not Know a Day I Did Not Love You," first sung by Walter Willison, who earned a Tony Award nomination for playing Japheth. It was the show's one Tony nomination.

*

In 1979, the same year that Rodgers died, his last musical, I Remember Mama, was produced on Broadway. With lyrics by Charnin and book by Thomas Meehan, the show starred Liv Ullmann and was based on the famous John Van Druten play of the same name.

Charnin said he's hoping a commercial producer will view Rodgers &… as a kind of Side by Side by Sondheim-style experience and will pick it up and plunk it down for a longer run in New York City, or that it might become a property for engagements around the country.

Performances of Rodgers &… will play 8 PM Jan. 10; 3 & 8 PM Jan. 11; 2 & 8 PM Jan. 12 at the 92nd Street Y at Lexington Avenue at 92nd Street in Manhattan.

The 92nd Street Y is located in Manhattan at 92nd Street and Lexington Avenue. For more information call (212) 415-5500 or go to www.92Y.org/lyrics2009.

*

The 2009 Lyrics & Lyricists season at the 92nd Street Y — the first season under the guidance of new artistic director Deborah Grace Winer — will feature shows created by guest artistic directors Martin Charnin, David Zippel, Robert Kimball, Rex Reed and Billy Stritch.

In a statement Winer said, "The American Songbook is continuously fresh for each new generation of listeners, and new generations of songwriters are constantly expanding the Songbook's range. In concerts stressing musical excellence and featuring the cream of today's performers, I look forward to bringing the classics to audiences who have not yet discovered this music, while also introducing the knowledgeable and enthusiastic L&L crowd to songs being written now in the American Songbook tradition, and are destined to become the 'classics' of tomorrow."

Zippel will be the guest artistic director for the Feb. 21-23 offering, It Started With a Dream: David Zippel, which is subtitled "Lyrics He Wrote — Lyrics He Wishes He Wrote". The Tony-winning lyricist of City of Angels will present "highlights from his own scores and . . . his inspirations and personal favorites from the American Songbook canon."

From April 4-6 guest artistic director Kimball will present Sunny Side Up: Roaring Through the Twenties with DeSylva, Brown & Henderson. The concerts, which will feature the vintage big band Vince Giordano & The Nighthawks, will focus on the songs of DeSylva, Brown & Henderson, whose tunes include "You're the Cream in My Coffee," "Button Up Your Overcoat" and "The Best Things in Life Are Free."

The Man That Got Away: Ira After George is the title of guest artistic director Reed's show, which will be seen at the East Side venue May 9-11. The concerts will include songs penned by Ira Gershwin after the untimely death of his brother George. Expect to hear such classics as "Long Ago and Far Away," "The Man That Got Away" and "My Ship," among others.

The L&L season will conclude with Sunday in New York: Mel Tormé in Words and Music. The June 6-8 concerts, under the artistic direction of Stritch, will honor "the incomparable singer and songwriter Mel Tormé."

Lyrics & Lyricists shows are presented over a single weekend with show times Saturday at 8 PM, Sunday at 3 and 8 PM and Monday at 2 and 8 PM.