Chapin explained that Rodgers’ Broadway musical theater career could be evenly divided into three parts. These were his work with lyricist Lorenz Hart (1895-1943), his work with lyricist and librettist Oscar Hammerstein II (1895-1960), and his work alone and with others.
After impressively appearing in several numbers that exhibited his dynamic soaring voice and leading man presence, bearded and youthful Ben Crawford was absolutely hilarious with his Borscht Belt inflections and pushups for “Ninety Again!” That was a comical song from 1970’s Two By Two, the flop starring the troublesome Danny Kaye as Noah with lyrics by Martin Charnin. Also from that show, T. Oliver Reid did the lovely “I Do Not Know A Day I Did Not Love You” and Karen Ziemba the humorous “An Old Man.”
For the 1962 remake of the 1945 movie musical State Fair, Rodgers wrote his own lyrics for a new song, “This Isn’t Heaven,” that was performed by Bobby Darin in the film. Mr. Crawford beautifully sang it here.
The 1965 film adaptation of The Sound of Music had two new songs for which Rodgers wrote the lyrics. The upbeat “I Have Confidence” was the concert’s rousing opening number that was performed by the company as well as the wistful “Something Good.” That was a duet between Crawford and the blonde, statuesque and talented Betsy Wolfe. They also did a duet from the 1977 musical Rex with lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, “Away From You.” The concert’s joyous finale, “No Song More Pleasing” was also from that show.
Rodgers’ first show after Hammerstein’s death was the 1962 hit musical, No Strings. This interracial romance set in Paris amidst the fashion industry was based on Rodgers’ original idea. Due to its controversial subject matter for that time, theater owners were wary of booking it and it was presented at the less then desirable 54th Street Theater. It is the only show that he wrote both music and lyrics and he was awarded that year’s Tony Award for Best Score.
Originally arranged by Peter Matz and Ralph Burns, the numbers had the sound of the mod 1960’s with slightly Gallic melodies and was represented here with three songs: Ms. Wolfe and Mr. Reid sang the romantic duet “The Sweetest Sounds,” before she joined Ms. Ziemba for the sweet duet “Love Makes The World Go” and the comic solo “Loads of Love.” Her acclaimed comedic and dramatic talents were on welcome display throughout the show.
With five songs, 1965’s Venice set, Do I Hear a Waltz?, was the most represented show. This relatively brief running musical adaptation of Arthur Laurents’ 1952 play, The Time of the Cuckoo, held to a contentious situation among its creators. The clever and highly effective lyrics were by Stephen Sondheim. “What Do We Do? We Fly!” was a grand comic number performed by the company, as was the melodic title song. Wolfe made the most of the achingly self-revelatory “Someone Woke Up.” Reid’s powerful voice was thrilling during “Someone Like You.” Ziemba and Crawford were marvelous together for the charming “Thank You So Much.”
Rodgers’ last musical for the stage was the 1979 flop, I Remember Mama. It was adapted from the 1944 hit play and had lyrics by Martin Charnin. The cast was enchanting in “Ev’ry Day Comes Something Wonderful” and Ziemba performed the touching “Time.”
Above the stage on a screen throughout the presentation were projected photographs illustrating Rodgers’ career and appropriate backdrops for the locales of the shows. Brief insightful video interviews with Rodgers’ daughter Linda, lyricists Sheldon Harnick and Martin Charnin, playwright Sherman Yellen, historian Ken Bloom, Rodgers grandson Peter Melnick, record producer Thomas Z. Shepard, and the actor John Cullum were shown. A 1974 Public Television interview conducted by James Day showed the aged Rodgers ravaged by strokes and throat cancer but still vital and articulate.
There was also a clip from the 1967 television musical adaptation of Androcles and the Lion, with Noël Coward as the Roman emperor with his characteristically distinctive singing of Rodgers’ lyrics set to his music. Reid and Wolfe performed the pleasant duet of “Strangers” from it.
During the program, Mr. Chapin delivered his authoritative and engaging commentary. This presentation was based on a concept by SiriusXM radio host Bill Rudman.
In addition, there was Mr. Pine’s compelling reading of Rodgers’ own words about his life. This excellent actor has had a long career on the New York City stage and on screen and television. His performance very skillfully conveyed Rodgers’ fabled dourness and dry humor.
Music director Joseph Thalken created the inventive arrangements and also was on piano leading the sensational orchestra. Robin Zeh was on violin, Diane Barere was on cello, Todd Groves was on woodwinds, Dick Sarpola was on bass, and Erik Charlston was on percussion.
Lorin Latarro’s brisk stage direction and lively choreography gave the presentation a striking visual quality and brisk pace.
“He loved to work and he needed to work,” said Chapin of Rodgers, who, as his daughters have recounted, was plagued by alcoholism and depression. The 92nd Y’s Lyrics & Lyricists Series’ I Have Confidence: Rodgers After Hammerstein vividly redeemed his later and largely unknown work.
92nd Y’s Lyrics & Lyricists Series: “I Have Confidence: Rodgers After Hammerstein” (May 21-23, 2016)
92nd Street Y
Kaufmann Concert Hall, 1395 Lexington Avenue at 96th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-415-5500 or visit http://www.92y.org
Running time: two hours and 10 minutes including one intermission