LORENZ HART by Frederick Nolan


A Poet on Broadway
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 An old-fashioned Broadway biography of Richard Rodgers's first lyricist. Nolan (The Sound of Their Music: The Story of Rodgers and Hammerstein, 1978) presents a ``this-is-your-life'' account of Lorenz Hart's rise and fall. Born in 1895 to Jewish immigrant parents in New York City's Harlem, Hart was raised in a boisterous household by a loving mother and a ne'er-do-well father who specialized in elaborate business scams. After directing amateur theatricals at summer camp, Hart began working on student revues at Columbia, where he met a young piano player named Richard Rodgers. Through classmate Herb Fields, then an aspiring writer, they were introduced to Fields's father, Lew, a theatrical impresario, who gave them their first break. After several abortive stabs at writing for Broadway, the partners were so unsure of their eventual success that Rodgers was tempted by an offer to sell babies' underwear just before their first big hit, a score for the Theater Guild's Garrick Gaieties of 1935. Rodgers and Hart went on to create many well-known musicals, including Babes in Arms, I Married an Angel, The Boys from Syracuse, and the great Pal Joey. Along the way, Hart pushed for lyrics--witty, cosmopolitan, full of current slang and topical allusions--whose quality was a notch above the ``moon-June-spoon'' fare of previous popular songs; he also insisted that songs be an integral part of the play, not just interpolations to suit a particular singing star. The writer was dogged by low self-esteem and a homosexual bent that Nolan seems most uncomfortable discussing; Hart eventually became so addicted to late-night carousing that he aggravated his more prudish partner. Rodgers finally paired up with Oscar Hammerstein shortly before Hart's death in 1943 to compose the immortal Oklahoma!, which launched the modern musical era. A sympathetic account for fans of the musical theater of the '30s and '40s. (15 b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-19-506837-8
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1994