From The Hart @ New End Theatre, London

cast list
Matthew Barrow
John Guerrasio
Lucy Kerans-Hunt
Louisa Maxwell
Peter Straker

directed by
Caroline Clegg
Lorenz Hart is often referred to as the poet of Broadway and this anthology show at Hampstead’s New End Theatre is a perfect reminder of how apt that label was.

The show itself is a simple thing, a breezy run-through of 32 classic Rodgers and Hart songs performed by an engaging five-man cast. Devised by David Kernan and written by John Kane, it gives us some interesting nuggets about Hart’s life, but the main aim here is to celebrate the man’s astute and intelligent lyrics.

Hart was barely five-feet tall and gay, and the show suggests that he held a life-long unrequited passion for his very heterosexual creative partner Richard Rodgers. He was also very conscious of his perceived unattractiveness, saying: “If I wanted perfection I had to look outside myself. If I wanted love, I had to invent it.” He descended into alcoholism that would eventually contribute to his death from pneumonia at the age of 48. But despite the almost text-book tragedy of his life, the show does not wallow in pathos, far from it; instead it keeps exposition to a minimum and allows the songs to do the talking.

His lyrics are perceptive and witty, lyrically dexterous and emotionally layered. In fact Hart confesses to a hatred of the pair’s most famous song, Blue Moon, for being too simplistic by far, too obvious. He preferred to play games with words, even if this led to some of his work being dismissed at the time as “fancy-shmancy.”

John Guerrasio plays Hart with a cigar in hand, trousers hitched high and a thick New York drawl. His performance holds the show together and gives the songs a necessary framework. He benefits from some strong support from Lucy Kerans-Hunt, Matthew Barrow, Louisa Maxwell and veteran stage performer Peter Straker. They divide the remaining roles between them, and take on the bulk of the vocal duties and each one of them is fully up to the task. There is not a dud note sung, despite the presumably vocally demanding nature of the two hour show.

Many of the songs are standards now, but it was nice to hear them in this different context, with more of an awareness of the man behind them. This is a sweet, simple production, not overly clever or complicated, yet one that does exactly what it sets out to do. Hearing all these songs together allows you to appreciate just how talented Hart was and the show is able to drive this point home without shirking its main aim of providing a warm and engaging evening’s entertainment.

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