Rodgers and Hart at 100: WIth a Song in Their Hearts

By Keith Mason, Ph.D.

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The first professional collaboration between composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Lorenz Hart began in December 1919. This article celebrates the 100th anniversary of their partnership that lasted 24 years until Hart’s death in 1943. Rodgers and Hart’s musicals have become a permanent part of the Great American Songbook. Their songs are worth including in student learning.

Songs found mainly in their stage musicals are popular standards of the 20th century: “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered,” “My Funny Valentine,” “Isn’t It Romantic?,” “Spring Is Here,” “Where or When,” “This Can’t Be Love,” “Falling in Love with Love,” “Sing for Your Supper,” and “With a Song in My Heart,” the last inspiring this article’s subtitle. Their song “Blue Moon” is cited as the only song that was not written for one of their musicals. Indeed, Rodgers and Hart’s songs are ever present in cabarets, revivals of their musicals, school musical productions, and audio recordings. I had the privilege of directing a curricular integration of the pair’s The Boys from Syracuse at a New Jersey high school. The integration included subject- specific projects as well as an ornate lobby and cafeteria display.
Several Rodgers and Hart musicals were staged before the advent of talky films. Nevertheless, 12 films featuring their scores were made. Celebrate the pair’s 100th anniversary with learning scenarios that highlight Rodgers and Hart’s collaborations and expose students to these two great musicians that are still influential today.

Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers

Lorenz Hart was born on May 2, 1895 in New York. He was an avid reader, especially interested in classical literature and classical theatre. He regularly attended plays throughout his life. Hart studied at Columbia University and became active in creating the varsity shows. He left school after three years to work as a play translator for the Shubert Brothers. Famous theatre producer Richard Rodgers was born in New York on June 28, 1902. Rodgers was interested in music and theatre from an early age. He was particularly influenced by composer Jerome Kern’s music. He began playing by picking out tunes on the piano at age 4 and could play piano with both hands at age 6.

Rodgers’ older brother Morty attended Columbia University and Rodgers would join his brother there. Rodgers enrolled at Columbia but did not complete a degree. He later studied at The Juilliard School. Rodgers met both Lorenz Hart and his second partner Oscar Hammerstein II at Columbia, the latter collaborator working with Rodgers from 1943 through 1960 on 11 works. A mutual friend Philip Leavitt introduced Rodgers and Hart to each other, believing they would make an ideal song writing team. Traditionally, composers received top billing over lyricists but Rodgers and Hart were the first team to receive equal recognition. Their first song “Any Old Place with You” was sung in the Broadway musical A Lonely Romeo in late 1919. Examples of the pair’s musicals include On Your Toes, Jumbo, The Boys from Syracuse, Babes in Arms, and Pal Joey, the last having the longest run at 542 performances. See the sidebar “Rodgers and Hart Interesting Facts” for career highlights.

Rodgers and Hart Learning Scenarios

The following learning scenarios address Rodgers and Hart’s collaborations. Utilizing one or more curriculum framework, students can perform Rodgers and Hart’s music or create a project or make a presentation that focuses on one or more Rodgers and Hart musical using tenets of the Multiple Intelligences, habits of mind, learning styles or interdisciplinary learning.

  • Rodgers and Hart Discover the personal and professional details of both Rodgers and Hart that led to their 24-year partnership. What ended their professional partnership? What characterized their music?
  • Broadway Bound Rodgers and Hart worked on more than two dozen Broadway musicals. What were the most and least popular of their works? Analyze one musical by learning its plot, setting, characters and musical score.
  • Hooray for Hollywood Twelve films included music by Rodgers and Hart. What were the films? How did the two feel about working in Hollywood?
  • Source Materials What were some sources of Rodgers, and Hart’s works and how were they used for stage or film adaptations?
  • Performances Students can perform Rodgers and Hart standards vocally or instrumentally in choral concerts, voice classes, recitals, or one of their staged musicals.
  • Lyrics What characterized the lyrics of Lorenz Hart according to reviewers? Use books or the Internet as resources.
  • Dancing What role did dance take on, beginning with the musical On Your Toes? And subsequent Rodgers and Hart musicals?
  • Ballets How were ballets utilized in some of Rodgers and Hart’s shows? How did choreographer George Ballanchine contribute to select musicals?
  • Rodgers’ Waltzes Identify songs by Rodgers and Hart that were waltzes. In which shows did waltzes appear?
  • Rodgers and Hart through Visual Arts Using one or more media, create a painting, drawing, sculpture, mural, scenic design or display that is inspired by one or more Rodgers and Hart musical.
  • George Abbott How many Rodgers and Hart musicals did director George Abbott work on? Provide details about Abbott’s contribution to their works.

Finale Ultimo

The songs of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart have left an indelible mark on the Great American Songbook canon. Students and teachers can benefit from working with the legendary composer and lyricist’s musicals and the songs contained therein. It is evident that Rodgers and Hart’s professional musical endeavors were consistently created with a song in their hearts.

Rodgers and Hart Interesting Facts

  • Rodgers and Hart came up with the idea for the 1938 musical The Boys from Syracuse on a train to Atlantic City based on Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors. Eddie Albert, star of the TV series Green Acres, played one of the “Boys from Syracuse.”
  • Rodgers and Hart’s musicals predate the cast albums so common in the early-to-mid 1940s and to this day; fortunately, a number of their shows were recorded with revival casts
  • Rodgers composed music first and then Hart wrote the lyrics to the music; this is different from Rodgers’ second lyricist, Oscar Hammerstein, II, who wrote lyrics first and then Rodgers set the lyrics to music
  • Pal Joey was Rodgers and Hart’s most successful musical; the 1940 stage play won the first New York Drama Critics Award for a musical comedy and 11 Donaldson Awards
  • In 1936, On Your Toes starred Ray Bolger on Broadway, who later played the Scarecrow in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz
  • Desi Arnaz starred in Too Many Girls on Broadway. He then reprised his role in the film version, where he met his future wife Lucille Ball. The two ran Desilu Studios and produced the classic TV series I Love Lucy and several other TV shows such as Our Miss Brooks, The Dick Van Dyke Show, and The Andy Griffith Show.

Keith Mason, Ph.D. received eight Paper Mill Playhouse Rising Star Awards for educational impact including one for The Boys from Syracuse. He is currently writing a book Musicals Across the Curriculum.

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