Composer Richard Rodgers and successive lyricists Lorenz Hart and Oscar Hammerstein II wrote their songs, which have entered the Great American Songbook, for the Broadway stage at a time when it was taken for granted that the voices would be unamplified, and many of the singers had training that was not so different from that of singers that were classically trained. Some singers still classically shape the songs—others have adapted them to reflect the sounds of their own favorite eras. Music lovers who learned some of these songs when Rodgers and Hammerstein were still alive may experience culture shock from some tracks of “Billy Porter Presents the Soul of Richard Rodgers,” Broadway’s Porter’s new Bee & El/SONY Masterworks Broadway CD, featuring Porter and other contemporary Broadway performers and recording artists. A number of them have “Hamilton” in their credits, making me think of this effort as, in part, the Hamiltonization of Rodgers, Hart, and Hammerstein. As the singers strive to make these songs their own, some of the recordings convince, but others will leave traditionalists in the dust.
Porter’s “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning,” backed by Pentatonix, begins peacefully, a cappella, before the singers swing it, giving it a fine soul and gospel twist. “I’m Gonna Wash that Man Right Outta My Hair” is fun, as sung by two men, Porter and Todrick Hall—the rapped part will be to some listeners’ taste and not to others’. The bitter critique of racism and hatred generally that is “Carefully Taught” is probed by India.Arie and Porter in a clear and pointed arrangement. Porter’s contribution to “Lady Is a Tramp” swings. “Edelweiss” displays heart, hope, and relevance “in this time of crisis,” as Porter puts it in an interpolated spoken message.
Patina Miller’s sound in her syncopated “I Have Dreamed” is undeniably lovely and Cynthia Erivo’s, in “My Funny Valentine,” is something wonderful, too—the beat and electronic effects evoke the dance floor. Deborah Cox’s “This Nearly Was Mine,” as a soul-style ballad, touched me at its quietest—the letting-it-all-hang-out part, not so much so. “With a Song in My Heart,” as sung by Brandon Victor Dixon and Joshua Henry, becomes a romantic duet for the two men—but with a driving beat. Renée Elise Goldsberry and Christopher Jackson sound great harmonizing on “If I Loved You”—and then there are all the electronics. Both a beautiful, old fashioned love song and a contemporary cri de coeur can be found in Leslie Odom, Jr.’s “My Romance”—does it need a beat you can dance to? Ledisi’s singing of “Bewitched” is pretty straight-forward, and abuts Zaire Park’s earthy rap.
“Billy Porter Presents the Soul of Richard Rodgers” is available from iTunes http://smarturl.it/BillyPorter
and Amazon http://smarturl.it/BillyPorter-cd
. Keep an open mind, if you’re of a mind to.