June 28, 2002, marks the 100th birthday of the late Broadway composer, Richard Charles Rodgers, whose collaborations with both Lorenz Hart and Oscar Hammerstein II provided some of the most memorable musicals in theatre history. A host of performers currently appearing on The Great White Way assembled at the Gershwin Theatre on this special day to honor the late composer in an afternoon of song.
The 90-minute program, aptly titled Something Good: A Broadway Salute to Richard Rodgers on His 100th Birthday, began with Oklahoma! star Patrick Wilson standing on the orchestra level of the Gershwin singing the first verse of "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'"; Wilson walked onstage to offer the second verse of the classic tune and then welcomed the crowd and the show's emcee, Ted Chapin, president of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization. Wilson commented, "[Chapin] is the 'and' in Rodgers 'and' Hammerstein." The young actor, who is currently filming the HBO production of "Angels in America," then finished his Oklahoma! tune to a roar of applause.
Chapin, who relayed various Richard Rodgers trivia throughout the concert, introduced Oklahoma! stars Jessica Boevers and Justin Bohon — replacing the scheduled Foster siblings, Sutton and Hunter — who offered a simple, sweet version of "Manhattan," the Rodgers and Hart song introduced in the 1925 revue The Garrick Gaieties.
Mamma Mia!'s Louise Pitre followed with a deeply concentrated version of the Higher and Higher standard "It Never Entered My Mind," which included a few verses in French. Chapin then read a letter from ASCAP President Marilyn Bergman, who was unable to attend the festivities; ASCAP was a co-presenter of the afternoon along with The Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization.
Composer-lyricist John Bucchino offered his jazzy interpretation of "My Favorite Things," which featured Bucchino on both piano and vocals. Chapin explained that although Rodgers usually composed speedily, "Younger Than Springtime" took the musician three attempts to get exactly as he wanted. Current Phantom of the Opera star Howard McGillin delivered a full voiced version of "Younger Than Springtime," which built to a rousing finale that was followed by a thunderous applause. As McGillin left the stage, Chapin joked, "Not bad." Three cast members from the upcoming revival of The Boys From Syracuse presented a preview of their show, which is now in rehearsals. Toni DiBuono, Erin Dilly and Lauren Mitchell, accompanied by musical director David Loud, sang the amusing Rodgers and Hart rarity, "Oh, Diogenes." John Cullum, star of the hit musical Urinetown, provided a bit of nostalgia, reprising the little-known ballad "Strangers," which he debuted in the 1967 TV musical "Androcles and the Lion." Cullum explained that the song, which featured both music and lyrics by Rodgers, is "not so much a love song as a song of persuasion."
The next segment could have been titled "Cinderella Sings Cinderella." The Cinderella of the current Into the Woods revival, Laura Benanti, delivered a beautifully sung and acted rendition of "In My Own Little Corner," which was written for Rodgers and Hammerstein's TV musical, "Cinderella." Another theatre favorite, Tony winner Lea Salonga, followed with Flower Drum Song's "Love, Look Away," a tune Salonga will sing on Broadway this season in a new production of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. Salonga's heartfelt, touching version also scored with the packed crowd.
Billy Stritch, who currently stars in the Tony-winning revival of 42nd Street, offered an upbeat, jazz-flavored take on "Mountain Greenery," which was written for the 1926 version of The Garrick Gaieties. Stritch introduced his 42nd Street co-star, the "irrepressible and irresistible" Mary Testa, who found all the humor and pathos in Allegro's "The Gentlemen Is a Dope."
Chapin announced that two former Rodgers and Hammerstein stars, Joan Roberts and Celeste Holm, were in today's audience, as were stars from several other Rodgers works. A letter from President George Bush read by Chapin preceded Marin Mazzie's performance. Accompanied by Ragtime composer Stephen Flaherty, Mazzie sang a sensational version of the Rodgers and Hart Pal Joey ballad, "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered." Mazzie built the song to a belty climax and then ended the tune in sweet, ethereal head tones, one of the many highlights of the afternoon.
Recent Tony winner Shuler Hensley, who was scheduled to perform "This Nearly Was Mine," was unable to attend the festivities. Instead, that South Pacific tune was rendered with passion by John Cullum, who recently starred in a production of that 1949 musical.
New York's Commissioner of Public Affairs, Kate Levin, read a proclamation from Mayor Bloomberg, who declared June 28, 2002, "Richard Rodgers Day." The legendary Barbara Cook — "Broadway royalty," said Chapin — delighted the crowd with superb renditions of two Rodgers and Hammerstein favorites: "It Might As Well Be Spring" and "I'm in Love With a Wonderful Guy." As Cook sang the latter's final lyrics, "I'm in love, I'm in love, I'm in love with a wonderful guy," the audience rose to its feet, the first standing ovation of the afternoon.
Laura Benanti returned to the stage to sing a tune that also boasted lyrics by Rodgers, "Something Good," which he wrote for the film of "The Sound of Music." Benanti's gentle take on the song segued into a rousing version of "You'll Never Walk Alone," sung by the Oklahoma! chorale. All of the afternoon's participants came back onto the vast stage of the Gershwin and finished with the final stanzas of the "Sound of Music" anthem, "Climb Ev'ry Mountain."
The crowd at the Gershwin again jumped to its feet, thanking the performers for what was more than just Something Good.