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Isn't It Romantic

The songs of Rodgers and Hart come alive at TheatreVirginia, but be aware, there are 50 of them.

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This aristocrat of the American stage has been honored in every imaginable way. You name it, he won ... Grammys, Tonys, Emmys, Oscars and the ultimate honor, a Broadway theater named after him. TheatreVirginia even served a birthday cake to theatergoers on the opening night of "Beguiled Again, The Songs of Rodgers and Hart."

But in this evening of song and dance, it's Lorenz Hart's good-natured but acid-tongued words that unexpectedly stand out. Unlike the sweeping, sun-drenched epics created by Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, Hart shines a light into the glitzy shadows of New York City. Taken in such a large dose, we're able to see how often Hart wrote about desirable, unattainable women.

In real life, Hart was a troubled soul. He stood less than 5 feet tall, drank heavily, spent money recklessly, missed deadlines and never sustained a romantic relationship with either a woman or a man (though he was openly gay). Somehow, he managed to channel his disappointments into lyrics that can sting, but never quite rise to outright bitterness.

The revue doesn't bother with the pretense of a story. The songs are grouped together in thematic scenes. For most of the first act, this works effectively. A skit that places songs within the context of a radio show and another about Rodgers and Hart's experiences in Hollywood are particularly good.

At one point, musical director and pianist Brian L. Wade tentatively fingers a melody on the piano. It will eventually turn into a haunting arrangement of "Blue Moon" (also performed by Carter Blough on bass and Jamael Nance on drums). Never mind that Rodgers didn't tend to compose that way. Usually, he would hear the tune in his head and then write it down later. But it's nonetheless one of the more human moments in the show.

Unfortunately, the show (directed by two of the original designers, J. Barry Lewis and Lynette Barkley) flattens out in the second act. The New York sophistication flirts with Voguelike pretension. And the lack of structure finally becomes too much of a burden for the show to carry. But the biggest problem is the unregulated flow of song and dance. For much of the second act, Hart's tangy lyrics bob around for a moment before rushing over the dam in a flood of Rodger's melodies.

The performances are first-rate, however. Tamra Hayden's sleepy manner can unexpectedly take charge of the stage when she begins to sing, Erica Schroeder has bunches of stage presence, and Peggy Taphorn is a big-time, sharp-edged dancer. Unfortunately, their voices have a lot of similarities and this contributes to the lack of dynamism in the show.

The three men in the cast (Tom Kenaston, James Patterson, and Abe Reybold) are equally good. On a couple of occasions, Kenaston plays Lorenz Hart himself. By enlarging these intriguing moments, the designers might have shaped the show into something more interesting.

Austin K. Sanderson designed both the scenery and the costumes, and there's the kind of unforced coordination between the elements you might expect from a single designer doing both jobs. The scalloped set is elegant with just enough Broadway flourishes (and light bulbs) to set the mood. The period costumes are often constructed of modern fabrics in unlikely colors that Sanderson places together with confidence.

William T. Grant III's refined lighting design helps to disguise the absence of variability in the show.

If you adore the songs of Rodgers and Hart, don't miss this revue. For the rest of us, this evening of 50 songs (no matter how captivating) is perhaps too much of a good thing. S



TheatreVirginia's "Beguiled Again: The Songs of Rodgers and Hart" runs through Dec. 21. Tickets cost $12-$41 and can be purchased at the box office, 353-6161.

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