In her return to Gotham’s Oak Room, Mary Cleere Haran embraces an era, the jazz age, and the remarkable collaboration of two songwriters who eloquently defined the period. “Falling in Love With Love” explores the 27-year union of composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Lorenz Hart. Joys abound as the sassy chanteuse spins through some 22 songs that illustrate the wit and heartbreak of Hart’s lyrics and the comforts of a Rodgers melody.
Haran is the epitome of the glamour and sophistication that graced the era she inhabits so comfortably. She is a musically intelligent singer with an irresistibly velvety voice. She spends most of the perf comfortably perched on the piano, probing the depths of a lyric. Haran is also a terrific storyteller and historian, and her narrative is punctuated with fanciful anecdotes and amusing observations.
Of course the great Rodgers & Hart standards are up front — “Manhattan,” “Dancing on the Ceiling,” “Where or When” and the tacky glory of “The Lady Is a Tramp” — but what a joy it is to explore the rare and oft-forgotten gems. A few prime examples: The sly party tune “Baby’s Awake Now”; “As Though You Were There,” dropped from a 1929 show but resurrected on a Lee Wiley record 11 years later; the circus waltz “Over and Over Again,” from 1935’s “Jumbo.” Haran shook the dust from the tunes and gave them a pleasing new sheen.
Haran’s accompanist and partner in song for the last eight years is the distinguished film composer Richard Rodney Bennett (“Murder on the Orient Express,” “Nicholas and Alexandra”), who has always harbored a passion for cabaret and the popular song. His richly dancing piano accompaniment is especially enveloping on “It’s Easy to Remember” and a waltzing “Wait Till You See Her.” A highlight is his wistful vocal solo for “I’m Talking to My Pal,” a reflective song dropped from the 1940 musical “Pal Joey.”
Praising the memory of Rodgers & Hart for a legacy of “tender sentiment and throbbing souls,” Haran delivers the defining moment of the program in a clear, subtle and thoroughly heartbreaking “Ten Cents a Dance.”