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Review: MEG FLATHER: RODGERS & HAMMERSTEIN 2021 Restores the Drama to R&H at Don't Tell Mama

Meg Flather Makes R&H As Relevant as Today's Headlines

Review: MEG FLATHER: RODGERS & HAMMERSTEIN 2021 Restores the Drama to R&H at Don't Tell Mama
photo by Helane Blumfield

Blossom of snow may you bloom and grow,

Bloom and grow forever.

Edelweiss, Edelweiss,

Bless my homeland forever.

A gentle wish for peace and an acknowledgment of the beauty all around us. Those were the last words to flow out of the pen of Oscar Hammerstein II. Born into a legendary theatrical family, his career spanned over 40 years on Broadway and he worked with a myriad of partners, notably Sigmund Romberg and Jerome Kern. But it is his groundbreaking partnership with Richard Rodgers that produced the work he will forever be remembered for. The partnership won him 8 Tony awards and two Oscars for best song. A playwright and lyricist, he created 5 works that are still staples of regional and community theatres around the world and 4 lesser performed works that pushed boundaries and are the basis of the musical play that still is a model for modern theatre writers. In terms of theatrical giants, they don't come much bigger than Rodgers & Hammerstein.

And yet they've gotten a bum rap over the years. There is a modern tendency to think of their works as quaint and homespun, folksy pieces of Americana that are appropriate for "family audiences," but somewhat out of touch with the dangerous world we now live in. Award-winning songwriter and cabaret artist Meg Flather set out to strip away some of the "folderol and fiddle-dee-dee" that has accumulated on the R&H canon over the years. She believes, rightly so, they are startlingly pertinent to the times we live in. Rodgers & Hammerstein wrote about conquering new territories. They wrote about war and racism and miscegenation and domestic abuse. They wrote strong women who created their own destinies and fought off literal Nazis. In short, Rodgers & Hammerstein were dangerous, and in spite of being the most successful writers in the American theatre were incredibly subversive in looking at the dark side of the American Dream.Review: MEG FLATHER: RODGERS & HAMMERSTEIN 2021 Restores the Drama to R&H at Don't Tell Mama

Meg Flather recontextualizes a gallery of R&H songs from the point of view of a female singer/songwriter in her 50s. She doesn't so much find new meaning in these familiar songs as she restores the original intent of their meaningful lyrics. Her show, RODGERS & HAMMERSTEIN 2021, which opened last night at Don't Tell Mama, is an evening of classics that is forward-looking and as fresh as today's headlines. Together with director Lennie Watts and musical director Tracy Stark, she has done the impossible: she has made Rodgers & Hammerstein relevant in the internet age. But as Hammerstein himself says "Impossible Things Are Happening Every Day."

There are too many delicious moments in this show to list them all separately. But these are some of the highlights, a list of "My Favorite Things" if you will. Tracy Stark opened the show with a one-woman orchestra version of "The Carousel Waltz." It was quite a feat. I was very fond of the combination of "It Might As Well Be Spring" and "My Favorite Things." Flather's spin on that list of comforting items took on a bit of desperation as if it was a soothing mantra to deal with the onslaught of craziness we are confronted with every day. She had a remarkable take on "Cain't Say No" taking it out of the realm of burgeoning teenage sexuality and making it about a similar awakening in a mature woman. It was delightful. She followed this up with a rare gem from Pipe Dream. "Everybody's Got a Home But Me" was refashioned to talk about the heartbreaking immigrant crisis we see unfolding on television every day.

Review: MEG FLATHER: RODGERS & HAMMERSTEIN 2021 Restores the Drama to R&H at Don't Tell Mama

She longed for simpler interactions in "Allegro" and hinted at all the relationships where people "kiss in the shadows" in a beautiful arrangement of "People Will Say We're In Love" joined with "No Other Love." The highlight of the evening was a beautifully acted version of "Lonely Room" from Oklahoma! She captured the terrible loneliness that many of us felt being confined in our homes for months. She gave a bravura performance of Anna's monologue from The King and I, "Shall I Tell You What I Think of You?" She fearlessly ripped into the kind of rant that is all too common on social media.

I was particularly fond of her reading of "A Hundred Million Miracles from Flower Drum Song. She combined it with "Impossible" from Cinderella as a beacon of hope. She ended with the plaintively simple "Edelweiss" and "The Sound of Music." I think Rodgers & Hammerstein would be proud to see the drama restored to their work. Meg Flather gets to the heart of what is exciting about their collaborations. It is a smoldering optimism in a world of seemingly insurmountable challenges. In that sort of battle, I put my money on Meg.Review: MEG FLATHER: RODGERS & HAMMERSTEIN 2021 Restores the Drama to R&H at Don't Tell Mama

For more about Meg Flather, visit megflather.com. For more great shows at Don't Tell Mama, go to donttellmamanyc.com.


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