Club Review: Meg Flather’s “Rodgers & Hammerstein 2021+”

April 1, 2022 | By

If you ever get stuck in thinking that the Rodgers & Hammerstein songbook can be dated and dusty, you haven’t yet heard Meg Flather sing from it. With multiple albums as a singer-songwriter, her legit sound is sweet, easy, and perfectly blended—and personal. That’s a tricky thing to do, to sing standards as if you wrote them; I later read in her artist statement for this show that director Lennie Watts had specifically asked for that, and Flather delivered.

Pianist and music director Tracy Stark opened with “Carousel Waltz” (from Carousel) bringing a grand sense of occasion, spaciousness, and storytelling to this classic. She’s a commanding player with an ability to create bold intrigue, complexity, and resolution while never losing the down-to-earth, dance-able, singable qualities of a song.

Meg Flather (Photo: Helane Blumfield)

In a time when the human race is most certainly falling on its face, “Cockeyed Optimist” from South Pacific was a good choice for the first song. Simply presented, with a quality of admitting the truth of being a little out of step with cynicism, Flather’s ease on stage was evident right away. From R&H’s first collaboration, Oklahoma!, “I Can’t Say No” is a fascinating piece now—at a time when women couldn’t wholeheartedly say yes (and, let’s face it, we still have a long way to go), the next best thing was not to say no. Flather was quietly revolutionary in not singing this as a pitchy character song, challenging the idea that wanting pleasure makes you a comic second banana but never a romantic lead.

“Everybody’s Got A Home But Me” from Pipe Dream (which, although it was a financial loss when it premiered in 1955 and received a lukewarm response from critics, seems to come around again periodically) was a standout song for Flather, and I’m glad they knocked the dust off of it. They brought a bit of a country, wide-open spaces flavor to the music, and she committed to the vulnerability and uncertainty at the heart of the lyrics. 

Flather’s dark and virtuosic version of “Lonely Room”—Jud Fry’s tormented, jealous rumination that didn’t make it into the film version of Oklahoma!—was a gutsy choice and ferociously acted. She handled the bright tempo of “Allegro” from the musical of the same name (R&H’s first flop) with swagger and clarity. There’s a surprisingly timely commentary in this song, that life gets faster and faster and the pressure to be rich, thin, and powerful is dizzying and disorienting. The lyrics use music itself as a metaphor “We muffle all the undertones/The minor blood-and-thunder tones/The overtones are all we care to play.”

I thought Flather and her team did a good job of using the patter to highlight some of the remarkably liberal ideas in the R&H heritage—if, perhaps, glossing over the undertones of how some of their once-progressive ideas are now culturally out of step—but the songs certainly stand on their own, repositioned in a cabaret setting, and personalized in this unique and skillful way. 

***

Meg Flather’s Rodgers & Hammerstein 2021+ has been presented at Don’t Tell Mama on a monthly basis. This review is based on the March 20 performance.

Category: News / Reviews / Commentary, Reviews

About the Author ()

From Canada, Penelope Thomas came to NY to study dance with Merce Cunningham; then through a series of fortunate and unfortunate events, she wound up back in singing and acting. Credits include lead vocals with FauveMuseum on two albums and live at Symphony Space, singing back-up for Bistro Awards director Shellen Lubin at the Metropolitan Room, reading poet Ann Carson’s work at the Whitney, and touring North America and Europe with Mikel Rouse’s The End of Cinematics. In Toronto, she studied piano at the Royal Conservatory of Music and cello with the Claude Watson School for the Arts, and in New York she studied music theory with Mark Wade. She's taught in the New School’s Sweat musical theatre intensive and taught dance in public schools and conservatories.

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