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Theater | Theater Review

Paired to Honor a Songwriting Pair

Gogi Grant and Bill Hayes sail through Rodgers & Hart in 'Glad to Be Unhappy.'

November 30, 2000|PHILIP BRANDES | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Transcending mere nostalgia, "Glad to Be Unhappy" at Theatre West finds timeless resonance for audiences of any age in the songs of Lorenz Hart, the gifted lyricist whose partnership with composer Richard Rodgers produced more than 650 film and Broadway show tunes during the 1920s and '30s.

Pairing heart-on-the-sleeve romanticism with smarts rather than cleverness, Hart was a lyricist who celebrated--and elevated--everyday emotional life. This populist sensibility still keeps his songs accessible despite their underlying wit and sophistication; no advanced degrees are needed to catch the poignant drift of lines like "I never thought I'd be playing solitaire / Uneasy in my easy chair."

Thanks to the resilient talents of Gogi Grant and Bill Hayes, this unpretentious two-performer revue exudes the same qualities that distinguish the songs themselves--disarming simplicity and emotional directness. From an original suggestion by Grant, co-directors William Meade and Betty Garrett steer us through excerpts and full-length renditions of more than 50 tunes from the Rodgers & Hart canon, interlaced with brief, informative biographical narration scripted by Mead.

Spanning selections from their first published number ("Any Old Place With You") to the still-glittering final collaborations during Hart's physical deterioration, these songs run the gamut of experience--giddy, manic heights and pits of abject loneliness and melancholy. Through it all, Grant and Hayes are amiable guides who deliver the songs with obvious affection for the author--and for each other.

Grant displays a particularly impressive stylistic range, with her belting in "Falling in Love With Love" giving way to nuanced vibrato in "Little Girl Blue" and the pure, rueful pathos of a taxi dancer in "Ten Cents a Dance." Hayes is an agreeable trouper as well, crooning classics such as "Blue Moon" and hoofing to beat the three-piece band in "I Need Some Cooling Off."

Both singers are effectively miked, though the lack of a center speaker results in sometimes distracting vocal steering to the sides of the stage. Though the pair indefatigably carry the entire show, at times the addition of a pair of younger performers would supply a bit more stage-of-life contrast. Nevertheless, even Hart's earliest efforts ache with life experience that is well-suited to these mature talents.

* "Glad to Be Unhappy," Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, Los Angeles. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Ends Dec. 17. $20. (323) 851-7977. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.

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