Richard Rodgers is best-known as the songwriting partner of OscarHammerstein, with whom he composed hit musicals such as “Oklahoma!” and “The Sound of Music.” But many American song aficionados believe that Rodgers’ finest music was written earlier in his career, with librettist Lorenz Hart.
In her new cabaret show, which opened Tuesday at the Plush Room, Andrea Marcovicci leaves no doubt as to her feelings on the subject. “Marcovicci Sings Rodgers & Hart” makes a compelling case for “Larry” Hart’s supremacy, even as it offers a fascinating glimpse into the heyday of early 20th century musical theater.
Marcovicci covers nearly 30 Rodgers-Hart songs in the show, spanning the years 1919 to 1943. Her charming, unaffected presence and first-class voice make her an ideal interpreter for this music, and her performance (ably accompanied by pianist Shelly Markham and bassist Daniel Fabricant) is worthwhile on its musical strengths alone.
But the singer is also a superb historian, and her between-song anecdotes and insights about Rodgers, Hart and their contemporaries are as entertaining as the songs themselves.
The two-hour revue includes well-known hits such as “Where or When,” “My Funny Valentine” and “The Lady Is a Tramp” (all from the 1937 show “Babes In Arms”) and “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” (from 1940’s “Pal Joey.”) Marcovicci makes them sound newly minted.
Yet the evening’s greatest rewards come when Marcovicci delves into less-familiar territory. A silky “He Was Too Good to Me,” and the bluesy “Ten Cents a Dance” emerge as potent mini-dramas; poignant performances of “Falling In Love with Love” and “It Never Entered My Mind” support Marcovicci’s description of Hart as “the greatest-ever writer of the unrequited love song.”
Marcovicci evokes the emotional atmosphere of each song with a deft touch; nothing is overstated. Her commentary, as sharp as Hart’s lyrics, underscores the progression of the songs as it traces the librettist’s hits and misses on Broadway, his foray into Hollywood, failed relationships, increasing dependence on drugs and alcohol and death in 1943.
The decidedly un-romantic “Everything I’ve Got,” and “To Keep My Love Alive,” about a woman who bumps off a string of husbands, offer wickedly funny counterpoint to the tender moments. For “Any Old Place With You” — the team’s first published song, written for a show called “A Lonely Romeo” — Marcovicci brings out a chart listing the place names in Hart’s improbable rhyme scheme (“I’m gonna court-ya, in California.”) It’s hilarious.
That chart is one of the only props in this richly theatrical evening. The other significant item, prominently displayed atop the piano, is an archival photo of Rodgers and Hart. They’re beaming at the camera, and who could blame them? With Marcovicci as an advocate, the pair never had it so good.
Marcovicci Sings Rodgers & Hart
Where: Plush Room, York Hotel, 940 Sutter St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays; 5 p.m. Sundays; closes July 29
Tickets: $45.50 to $49.50
Contact: (866) 468-3399 or www.EmpirePlushRoom.com