Connecticut Theater

"Nobody’s Heart: The Music of Rodgers & Hart"
Stamford Theatre Works,  Stamford

Traditions are treasured—in fact, encouraged--in the world of show biz. Along those lines, Stamford Theatre Works closes its season, as it does each year, with a musical revue. This year’s modest little show is about legendary songwriters Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers. Basic to this yearly tradition is the show’s team of David Bishop (arranger/musical director) and Shawn Churchman (director/choreographer). The two have created a format to which they adhere each year.

Not only tradition, but sentimentality marks this year’s closing show. It may very well be STW’s last appearance at the Sacred Heart Academy barn, where STW has enjoyed a 19-year-run. STW hopes to be moving next year to its new home at Stamford’s Palace Theatre. The mix of sentimentality, tradition, and subscriber loyalty may explain the audience’s positive reactions to “Nobody’s Heart.”

But, actually, how successful are these end-of-year musical efforts? We do feel that STW’s best work lies in its straight socially-oriented plays, often under artistic director Steve Karp’s perceptive direction. At best, “Nobody’s Heart: The Music of Rodgers & Hart” is a pleasant mix of tunes, but not an earth-shaking or brilliant offering.

Bishop/Churchman’s five performers work hard to bring the songs to life. Leslie Alexander, Adam Armstrong, Dan Maceyak, Courtney Glass, and Stephan Stubbins sing, talk, and cavort about the stage, working their way through some 25 numbers and three decades of Rodgers and Hart shows. In fact, there is far too much cavorting, which is mannered, distracting and often awkward. Moreover, these five performers so different in age, look, and style, are often embarrassingly mismatched in playing out love songs.

Yet there are highlights. When Alexander sings “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered” (a song that is absolutely right for her), the breakthrough show of “Pal Joey” (1940) is powerfully recalled. (With its cynicism, darker themes, and grown-up story, it was a turning point in Broadway musicals.) And the ensemble gets off a rousing number with “Way Out West on West End Avenue” (from “Babes in Arms” 1937).

The interjection of narrative also works very well. Mostly related by Stephan Stubbins, the monologues effectively and sparingly spell out Hart’s tragic tale of homosexuality and alcoholism. Interspersed with the music, the story moves from the team’s early days at Columbia University to their ‘40s split-up to Hart’s death in 1943.

-- Irene Backalenick
May 7, 2007