BWW Review: Anna Bergman Celebrates the Love Songs of Richard Rodgers at Enjoyable Gala to Benefit The Actor's Temple
On the evening of March 21, veteran vocalist and stage actress Anna Bergman presented a program called Falling In Love With Love, featuring the romantic songs of Richard Rodgers to support the Actors' Temple (339 West 47th Street) at its 3rd Annual Fundraising Gala, one year shy of Congregation Ezrath Israel's centennial (that's the official name of the synagogue). Prior to Bergman's show (produced by recently elected Temple Board President Carol Ostrow), Rabbi Jill Hausman and outgoing Temple Board President Robert Reicher, both of whom received awards, gave warm and funny speeches, making eminently clear why the Actors' Temple is known as "the Cool Shul."
One of the evening's highlights followed when Peter Rodgers Melnick, the grandson of Richard Rodgers and an award-winning film and television composer and playwright, spoke insightfully and lovingly about his legendary grandfather. Melnick's story about the gentile country club in Fairfield, CT, which offered his grandfather membership in part to secure an easement, was a gentle reminder that as recently as the 1970s, even affluent and successful Jews faced prejudice in the upper echelons of society. Richard Rodgers graciously granted the club their easement but declined to join, saying that he didn't want to be anyone's "pet Jew." After this and other vivid Melnick, I was inspired to read Rodgers' autobiography, Musical Stages.
Bergman's Rodgers set--which featured more than 20 songs--tilted more toward the composer's collaborations with Lorenz Hart than with Oscar Hammerstein II. The stunning redhead opened aptly with "It's a Grand Night for Singing" from State Fair but this, like "Isn't it Romantic" and "My Romance" which followed, fell somewhat flat. Bergman sounded far more confident with "I Have Dreamed" and "Something Wonderful," both from The King and I, as well as on "Do I Hear a Waltz," Rodgers' 1965 collaboration with a young Stephen Sondheim.
Bergman's duets with guest vocalist Nat Chandler--"I Wish I Were In Love Again" from the musical Babes In Arms, and "Away From You," from the musical Rex--were the musical high points of the evening. With his rich baritone, impeccable phrasing, and commanding presence, one sees instantly why Chandler boasts a long and impressive a list of musical theater credits, including the Tony-nominated The Scarlet Pimpernel. Chandler allows his opera training to inform, rather than overwhelm, Rodgers' songs. With experience playing Emile de Becque in South Pacific, his solo on "Some Enchanted Evening" was outstanding. While Bergman's affection for the material is evident, she tends to force an operatic-type soprano when her voice is stronger in the lower registers. With material like this, less is more.
Musical director Joseph Thalken dazzled on a solo of "The Carousel Waltz" from the musical Carousel. Paul Greenwood, Alex Rybeck, and Thalken provided excellent arrangements of songs it is impossible not to love. Overall, enjoyable presentation and successful evening.