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Rodgers and Hart were an American songwriting partnership between composer Richard Rodgers (1902–1979) and the lyricist Lorenz Hart (1895–1943). They worked together on 28 stage musicals and more than 500 songs from 1919 until Hart's death in 1943.
Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart were introduced in 1919, when both attended Columbia University, when asked to write an amateur club show. After writing together for several years, they produced their first successful Broadway musical, The Garrick Gaieties, in 1925, which introduced their hit song, "Manhattan" and led to a series of successful musicals and films. They quickly became among the most popular songwriters in America, and from 1925 to 1931 had fifteen scores featured on Broadway. In the early 1930s they moved to Hollywood, where they created several popular songs for film, such as "Isn't It Romantic?" and "Lover", before returning to Broadway in 1935 with Billy Rose's Jumbo. From 1935 to Hart's death in 1943, they wrote a string of highly regarded Broadway musicals, most of which were hits.
Many of their stage musicals from the late 1930s were made into films, such as On Your Toes (1936) and Babes in Arms (1937), though rarely with their scores intact. Pal Joey (1940), termed their "masterpiece", has a book by The New Yorker writer John O'Hara. O'Hara adapted his own short stories for the show, which featured a title character who is a heel. So unflinching was the portrait that critic Brooks Atkinson famously asked in his review "Although it is expertly done, how can you draw sweet water from a foul well?" When the show was revived in 1952, audiences had learned to accept darker material (thanks in large part to Rodgers' work with Oscar Hammerstein II). The new production had a considerably longer run than the original and was now considered a classic by critics. Atkinson, reviewing the revival, wrote that "it renews confidence in the professionalism of the theatre."
Time Magazine devoted a cover story to Rodgers and Hart (September 26, 1938). They wrote that their success "rests on a commercial instinct that most of their rivals have apparently ignored". The article also noted the "spirit of adventure." "As Rodgers and Hart see it, what was killing musicomedy [sic] was its sameness, its tameness, its eternal rhyming of June with moon."
Their songs have long been favorites of cabaret singers and jazz artists. For example, Ella Fitzgerald recorded their songbook. Andrea Marcovicci based one of her cabaret acts entirely on Rodgers and Hart songs.
Hart's lyrics, facile, vernacular, dazzling, sometimes playful, sometimes melancholic, raised the standard for Broadway songwriting. "His ability to write cleverly and to come up with unexpected, polysyllabic rhymes was something of a trademark, but he also had the even rarer ability to write with utmost simplicity and deep emotion." Rodgers, as a creator of melodies, ranks with Jerome Kern and Irving Berlin.
Their shows belong to the era when musicals were revue-like and librettos were not much more than excuses for comic turns and music cues. Still, just as their songs were a cut above, so did the team try to raise the standard of the musical form in general. Thus, A Connecticut Yankee (1927) was based on Mark Twain's novel, and The Boys From Syracuse (1938) on William Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors. "They had always considered the integration of story and music a crucial factor in a successful show." They used dance significantly in their work, using the ballets of George Balanchine.
Comparisons between Rodgers and Hart and the successor team of Rodgers and Hammerstein are inevitable. Hammerstein's lyrics project warmth, sincere optimism, and occasional corniness. Hart's lyrics showed greater sophistication in subject matter, more use of overt verbal cleverness, and more of a "New York" or "Broadway" sensibility. The archetypal Rodgers and Hart song, "Manhattan," rhymes "The great big city's a wondrous toy/Just made for a girl and boy" in the first stanza, then reprises with "The city's clamor can never spoil/The dreams of a boy and goil" in the last. Many of the songs ("Falling in Love with Love", "Little Girl Blue", "My Funny Valentine") are wistful or sad, and emotional ambivalence seems to be perceptible in the background of even the sunnier songs. For example, "You Took Advantage of Me" appears to be an evocation of amorous joy, but the very title suggests some doubt as to whether the relationship is mutual or exploitative.
According to Chuck Denison, "My Heart Stood Still" is one of Rodgers and Harts' most enduring hits. Their song "Blue Moon" was used in the 1934 movie Manhattan Melodrama as the title song. The song was re-written and Glen Grey and the Casa Loma Orchestra recorded it in 1936, and that version topped the charts for 3 weeks. Elvis Presley included a haunting version on his self-titled debut album, in 1956. It again was #1 in 1961, this time in the doo-wop style, by the Marcels. Bob Dylan included his Nashville-inflected version of the song on his Self Portrait album of 1970.
Other of their many hits include "My Funny Valentine", "Falling in Love with Love", "Here In My Arms", "Mountain Greenery", "My Heart Stood Still", "The Blue Room", "Ten Cents a Dance", "Dancing on the Ceiling", "Lover", "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered", "Mimi", and "Have You Met Miss Jones?",