The Colony Theatre ends its “Season of Premieres” with a base-clearing home run. Falling For Make Believe combines terrific Broadway song-and-dance with a compelling drama of the life of Broadway lyricist Lorenz Hart.
As fans of Broadway know, before there was Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein there was Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. From 1927 to 1943, composer Rodgers and lyricist Hart gave us many of the Great White Way’s most memorable songs.
For a gripping hour-and-a-half, Saturday’s audience heard a glorious 21-rendition salute: “Bewitched,” “Blue Moon,” “Falling In Love With Love,” “I Could Write a Book,” “I Wish I Were In Love Again,” “Isn’t It Romantic?,” “Johnny One Note,” “The Lady Is a Tramp,” “Manhattan,” “Mountain Greenery,” “My Funny Valentine,” “My Heart Stood Still,” “Nobody’s Heart,” “Pal Joey,” “Sing For Your Supper,” “This Can’t Be Love,” “Where or When,” “With a Song In My Heart,” “You Are Too Beautiful,” “You Mustn’t Kick it Around” and “You Took Advantage of Me.”
The singing all by itself is worth the price of admission. KUDOS to MUSICAL DIRECTOR KEITH HARRISON and CHOREOGRAPHER LISA HOPKINS, as well as the superb cast.
Some playwrights might have been content to lean on the song-and-dance and merely concoct a frothy romance. Perhaps they would have Rodgers and Hart, a la Hope and Crosby, vying for the attentions of the beautiful ingénue giving their songs wings.
But PLAYWRIGHT MARK SALTZMAN had deeper ambitions. He was determined to tear down the curtains of censorship that separated the enduring Broadway song lyrics from the fragile human being who penned them.
You see, Lorenz Hart was a homosexual. In 1920s New York, this wasn’t too bad a problem, especially for a celebrity like Hart. The speakeasys were as tolerant of gay display as they were of the hip flask. But after Prohibition was lifted, the now-legal bars—in a kind of quid pro quo—were obliged to bar “deviants” from being their patrons. The gays of that era had to retreat to makeshift bars of their own, often so small that they came to be nicknamed “closets.” “The love that dared not speak its name” was also a love that families dared not allow written records to expose. Diaries, letters, all such evidences of same-sex activity got hurled into the fireplace.
But in spite of key documents (if they existed) being forever lost to history, Mark Saltzman has managed to give us a far truer glimpse into the life of Lorenz Hart than any of the official stories that appeared following his death in 1943. Falling For Make Believe shows us a life of brilliant achievement and crushing doubt, of easy liaisons mixed with deep distrust, of users and genuine friends. But one can easily believe that there was no one in Hart’s life that fully understood his inner torment.
It falls to the cast, as brilliant in their character portrayals as they are in their singing, to show us what the party line has withheld. BEN GOLDBERG (Lorenz Hart) gives us a heartbreaking portrayal of a man whose lyrical genius was inseparable from his longings. BRETT RYBACK (Richard Rodgers), himself a composer, really conveys the disciplined genius of Rodgers.
TYLER MILLIRON (Fletcher Mecklen) had the difficult challenge of embodying the several ways in which an ambitious gay man of closeted days might have related to a gay celebrity. It’s a tribute to Tyler, as well as DIRECTOR JIM FALL, that he keeps all of the possibilities, noble and profane, alive.
JEFFREY LANDMAN (Doc) and REBECCA ANN JOHNSON (Vivian Ross) gave us sensational song interpretations that should be heard one day in New York and London. MEGAN MORAN (Peggy, Dorothy Rodgers, Policewoman) juggled her wildly diverse roles like a pro, and lent several songs a wonderful comedic note.
Harry Truman once said, “The only thing new in this world is the history you don’t know.” Falling For Make Believe offers something very new indeed. And we leave suspecting that the lyrics that make our hearts sing first had to make Lorenz’ heart break.
Continues through Sunday, May 19. Performances are Thursdays and Fridays at 8 p.m.; Saturdays at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m.; and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets range from $20 to $40. The Colony Theatre is located at 555 N. Third St, at the corner of Cypress. For tickets, call the Colony Theatre Box Office at 818/558-7000 ext. 15 or go online at www.ColonyThreatre.Org.