At the Hart To Hart Gala Celebration
The lifelong careers of both Moss and Kitty Carlisle Hart cannot be properly celebrated in any other way than an enormous, glitzy, ritzy gala with performances by the best and brightest of Broadway, Hollywood, and opera. Hosted with excited humor by legendary diva Beverly Sills and legendary star of stage and screen Julie Andrews, Sunday night's Hart to Hart gala celebration at Avery Fisher Hall was a perfect way to honor this most extraordinary of couples.
Since his autobiography, Act One, was the bestselling nonfiction book of 1959, it made sense to dedicate the first act of the evening to Moss Hart. A clip from the original stage production of My Fair Lady, which Mr. Hart directed, let us see a 19-year-old Julie Andrews singing an alternately dreamy and poignant "Wouldn't It Be Loverly." Robert Goulet, who starred alongside Richard Burton and Ms. Andrews in the Hart-helmed Camelot, recounted a hilarious anecdote about rehearsal shenanigans with Burton, and sang Hart's favorite song from the show, "How To Handle A Woman." An archival video clip was presented of Ann Sothern singing the famous "Saga of Jenny" from the innovative Hart/Weill collaboration Lady in the Dark. Following a video clip of the Hart-scripted film A Star Is Born, Audra MacDonald entered beneath a picture of Judy Garland, commented that "only for Kitty Carlisle Hart would I be damn fool enough to sing this song underneath this picture!" and launched into a soaring "The Man That Got Away," which Garland sang in the movie. Additional anecdotes and accolades came from Rosemary Harris, Dina Merrill, and Celeste Holm, who starred in The Climate of Eden and You Can't Take It With You, The Man Who Came to Dinner, and the movie Gentleman's Agreement, respectively, all of which were written or co-written by Hart. Christopher Hart, the couple's son, read a poignant and funny letter written by his father to Brooks Atkinson, and Lonny Price, star of Stephen Sondheim's musical adaptation of Moss Hart's 1934 play Merrily We Roll Along, read the beautiful and powerful final pages of Act One. The act ended with a group of students from NYU's Tisch School who truly do have "worlds to change and worlds to win" singing the haunting "Our Time" from the musical.
The second half of the evening began with Orson Bean recounting his years with Kitty Carlisle Hart on the set of TV's To Tell The Truth. Jane Alexander, also an actress turned arts spokeswoman, praised Ms. Hart's work for the New York State Council for the Arts, and described how Ms. Hart guided her when she began heading the National Endowment for the Arts. "For a little person," Alexander said lovingly, "she is a real giant." Since Ms. Hart recently performed at Feinstein's cabaret room, it was only apropos that Michael Feinstein play "June in January" (from the movie Here is My Heart, in which she starred) for her. Dr. Catherine Hart recounted a memorable Thanksgiving with her family that ended with the Harts having dinner at the local Howard Johnsons, and reminding her mother that while she might not have been able to cook a turkey, Howard Johnson himself could never sing Carmen. Ms. Hart's opera career was recounted with performances by Sylvia McNair ("Falling in Love With Love," Ms. Hart's audition song for the Met), Theodora Hanslowe (an aria from Die Fledermaus) and Denyce Graves (an aria from Carmen). Ms. Hart's most famous film role, as the ingenue in A Night At The Opera, was celebrated with an extended film clip of both her singing the glorious "Miserere" from Il Trovotore, and the Marx Brothers cavorting in the wings.
And then Kitty Carlisle Hart herself entered, still lovely, strong, and commanding at 94-years-old. Accepting the Eleanor Belmont Award for her many years of service to the Met, she proved that she is still in good voice by singing "Old Friends" from the musical version of Merrily We Roll Along, and a sweet "Here's To Life." Trying to quiet the enthusiastic audience, Sills declared that, after the long and eventful evening, it was time to go home and to bed. "Bed?" Andrews cried incredulously. "Bed? I couldn't go to bed! My head's too light to try to set it down!" Audra McDonald returned, picking up the song, and one by one, the entire cast gathered onstage to end the evening with a joyous "I Could Have Danced All Night," from My Fair Lady. It was the perfect way to end the celebration, and truly captured the exuberant mood of the crowd.