The latest in a series of celebrations of the life and work of composer Richard Rodgers took place at the London Coliseum — well into its program of refurbishment, aimed at its own centenary in 2004 — on June 30.
The program of songs included numbers from his best-known shows, such as Oklahoma! and Carousel, and included an example of three sets of lyrics that Lorenz Hart wrote to a particular melody of Richard Rodgers. After one failure and an uneventful appearance in a movie, the song eventually metamorphosed into one of their best known creations, "Blue Moon." This one example provided a fascinating example of the obvious but usually unthought of fact that songs don't emerge fully formed from their creators' heads, but are a mix of inspiration and experiment.
The gala celebration, to a remarkably good house for a Sunday evening, was hosted by veteran English National Opera (ENO) star Sally Burgess, who introduced the guest star, Janie Dee — who proceeded to bring the house down with "I'm Just a Girl Who Cain't Say No."
Janie Dee is herself starring in a West End show by another great American composer — in Gershwin's My One and Only at the Piccadilly. Her appearance on the stage of a London opera house as well as her duet with an opera star is a reminder of the cross-over between "popular" and "classical" music that is increasingly common, as it is between straight and musical theatre — as seen in particular by several productions of classic American musicals by the National Theatre. Richard Rodgers was a great believer in blurring the barriers between different stage art forms, as the ballet scenes and integrated choreography (by Agnes de Mille) of Oklahoma! proved. Appropriately enough, the second half of the Coliseum gala opened with a stunning rendition of Rodger's ballet score, "Slaughter on 10th Avenue" from his musical On Your Toes.
This score proved that although Rodgers was born 100 years ago, his extraordinary talent was ahead of its time as well as timeless in its appeal, and the increasing trend towards combining theatre, opera and dance still owes a debt to the man who was already part of the Broadway aristocracy 75 years ago.
—By Paul Webb Theatrenow