Lorenz Hart put words to longing. Richard Rodgers put those words to song.
And that’s how we have songs such as “Blue Moon,” “Where or When,” “My Romance,” “My Funny Valentine” and “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” in the Great American Songbook. “Beguiled Again,” playing at the Art- Stage Studio Theatre at Florida Repertory Theatre (Sept. 19-Oct. 29) showcases the tunes of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart.
“They’re some of the most romantic tunes ever written,” says director Michael Marotta, noting that the show contains 55 of their songs.
“I can’t tell you how thrilled I was when Greg Longenhagen asked me to come and direct it,” Marotta says. “When I heard the first notes of the first song, the first day of rehearsal, I started to cry. I have such a passion for this music because it so sophisticated and witty and touching. It doesn’t hurt that there are arrangements gorgeously written in six-part harmony throughout the show.” He said Craig Ames, one of the three who conceived the show, along with J. Barry Lewis and Lynnette Barkley, wrote the arrangements.
“Beguiled Again” journeys through of the duo’s early career during the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s.
“It opens with four or five of their biggest hits,” he says, tunes such as “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered,” “The Lady is a Tramp,” “This Can’t Be Love” and “That Terrific Rainbow.”
Their collaboration ended in 1943 when Hart died at the young age of 48.
“Hart was dealt an unfortunate hand,” Marotta says. “He was an unattractive guy, the runt of the litter, an alcoholic, and a closet case. The wonderful thing about the lyrics of this show is how they’re such a reflection of what he was and who he was.
“He had a tremendous sense of longing. He was never successful in love, but he always had hope. That’s probably in all the songs, something that reflects that passion, that longing, that desire, and the disappointment of never finding his own true love.”
Rodgers and Hart started out in Tin Pan Alley, he says, “in crowded little rooms listening to a bunch of other composers and writers.”
Their first hit was “The Garrick Gaieties,” which he likens to a burlesque vaudeville show.
The two went on to do other musicals, such as “On Your Toes,” “Babes in Arms” and “Pal Joey.”
But those shows are not performed much now and are not as popular as Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals (such as “South Pacific,” “The King & I” and “Oklahoma!”)
But the songs of Rodgers and Hart live forever.
“The book of their shows was secondary to the music; they may have been problematic, but they have beautiful scores,” says Marotta. “Songs such as ‘The Lady is a Tramp,’ ‘If I Could Write a Book.’ A lot of great songs. It was the scores that made them so beautiful. The books were: boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl in the end. The classic pattern repeated so often.”
His personal favorite is “My Romance,” because, he explains “It’s the epitome of love songs.”
And the title song, “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” is in his top three.
“I always wanted to direct Elizabeth Montgomery in a cabaret show with that title,” he says. “‘Bewitched’ — get it? Just to hear her Hollywood stories.”
“It Never Entered My Mind” sends shivers down his spine, he says, and he also adores “Where or When” and “Isn’t It Romantic?”
Marotta was in the original company that premiered “Beguiled Again,” in 1997 at the now-defunct Florida Stage in Manalapan, where it became their most successful production. Marotta then performed the show in two more productions.
“I think I may know it better than the writers do,” he jokes.
“It’s a big show to do, with a lot of material. Andrew Smithson is our musical director, and he did a beautiful job of getting the most out of these harmonies. It was also important for me to hire six individuals, not couples. They’re as different as they could be, and they’re having a great time.
“It’s absolutely heavenly. I’ve never enjoyed a rehearsal process more than this one.”
The songs are rich, romantic and deep.
While Hammerstein, who collaborated with Rodgers after Hart’s death, was optimistic and sunny in his lyrics, Hart expressed more complex emotions. His songs have “very sophisticated internal rhyming,” says Marotta.
“He also wrote a lot of funny patter songs.”
As an example, he points out “It’s a Lovely Day for a Murder,” which, he says, shows Hart’s darker side but also has a lot of levity in it.
“There is so much familiar music in this show,” says Marotta, “That even if (audience members) are not familiar with the titles, they know the song when they hear it.
“Revisiting this music, we’re all beguiled again by it, hence, the title.
“This show is about love, joy, passion and romance. It’s a celebration of their music.” ¦
In the KNOW
When: Through Oct. 29
Where: ArtStage Studio, at Florida Repertory Theatre, 2267 Bay St., Fort Myers