Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Yep, It's a Rodgers and Nobody Musical

Friday night, my lovely wife and I went over to the Freud Theater on the UCLA campus to see the final Reprise! production of the season, Richard Rodgers' '60s musical, No Strings. It's the only musical to which Rodgers, who had formerly partnered with lyricist Lorenz Hart, then Oscar Hammerstein II, wrote both music and lyrics, and after seeing the show, it's obvious why.

Stars Scott Bakula (star of Quantum Leap and Star Trek: Enterprise) and Sophina Brown (current co-star of Shark) are fine performers, ably abetted by Matthew Ashford (Day of Our Lives' Jack Devereaux), the wonderful Bets Malone (a Reprise! regular), Ruth Williamson (Nip/Tuck's plastic surgery-obsessed Mrs. Grubman), and an ensemble of beautiful men and women models, do an admirable job with a less-than-admirable show.

The problems are two-fold.

First, the show's book, by Samuel Taylor (who also wrote Sabrina, among many other shows and films), is about a group of characters who, at the heart of them, are self-centered, self-destructive, and not terribly likable. No Strings is the story of how an expatriate American writer, now living more on the largess of his friends than on his talent, and a beautiful model, who has found her fame and her freedom in Paris, meet, fall in love, then ultimately go their separate ways. These are just not people you find yourself rooting for.

The second problem is the music. Aside from the opening song, The Sweetest Sounds, which consists of five verses of the same lyrics being sung over and over again, and perhaps the title tune, there isn't a memorable song in the bunch. In fact, the biggest highlight of the show is the absolutely breathtaking costumes worn by the gorgeous models and designed by the legendary Bob Mackie. There are dozens of them and they are simply stunning.

With Lorenz Hart, Richard Rodgers co-wrote On Your Toes (which, coincidentally, will open Reprise's next season), Babes in Arms, The Boys From Syracuse, and Pal Joey. With Oscar Hammerstein, he co-wrote the legendary Oklahoma!, Carousel, State Fair, South Pacific, The King and I, Cinderella, Flower Drum Song, and The Sound of Music, among others. By himself, Richard Rodgers wrote this. But apparently, he learned his lesson. His remaining musicals, Do I Hear a Waltz?, Two by Two, Rex, and I Remember Mama, had lyrics written by the likes of Stephen Sondheim, Martin Charnin, and Sheldon Harnick. At least Rodgers didn't make the same mistake twice.

Still, despite the faults of the book, I found the music to be the primary problem with No Strings. It's the first time in the four decades that I've been going to see live musicals that I ever left the theater humming the costumes.

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