As a follow-up to Sondheim, Etc., her stunning tribute to composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim, Bernadette Peters goes back to basics and pays homage to the groundbreaking duo of Oscar Hammerstein II and Richard Rodgers with her latest CD.
Titled with an effusiveness that might have made even Hammerstein uncomfortable, Bernadette Peters Loves Rodgers & Hammerstein starts off with a bit of the childlike, lovey-dovey crooning that made Peters everyone's darling but which comes off as a trifle inappropriate from the now fiftysomething-year-old singer. But it's easily forgotten as she breaks into "It's a Grand Night for Singing," one of those bouncy tunes that instantly summons up the indescribable joy of show music. That number sets the tone for the disc, a simple and elegant celebration of the songwriting duo that changed the face of the musical theater.
As usual, Peters brings intelligence and heart to her renditions, truly acting the songs without sacrificing any of their melodic beauty. And yet, aside from the seminal scene-song "If I Loved You," she mostly focuses her attention on songbook standards rather than character numbers. Many of R&H's greatest hits are included ("Some Enchanted Evening," "You'll Never Walk Alone," "It Might As Well Be Spring," etc.) and all of them are given the star treatment. Sprinkled amongst these are some less celebrated but no less wonderful selections, like the jaunty "So Far" and the breezy "I Haven't Got a Worry in the World".
The lush and gentle arrangements are the work of the great Jonathan Tunick, who conducts the orchestra. Tunick has also co-produced the disc with Richard Jay-Alexander. They and Peters have created a pleasingly modest love letter of a recording with no guest stars or musical fireworks; it's just one perfect little song after another, with a few showstoppers like "The Gentleman is a Dope" from Allegro (delivered with the bitter angst of a wounded would-be lover) and "There is Nothin' Like a Dame" from South Pacific included to spice up the proceedings. Many thanks to Ms. Peters and her colleagues for providing such a charming musical reminder of why, after all these years, we all still love Rodgers and Hammerstein.