When the composer of Porgy and Bess and Rhapsody in Blue died in 1937 at the age of 38, scribe John O'Hara rendered the oft told observation, "George Gershwin died, but I don't have to believe it if I don't want to." For five years, lyricist Ira, his older brother and collaborator put his pen aside. Celebrating the 39th season of Lyrics and Lyricists at the 92ns Street Y, the words written by Ira Gershwin after the untimely passing of his brother were framed in melodic patterns by the likes of Harry Warren, Vernon Duke, Harold Arlen and Kurt Weill.
The often acerbic host, film critic Rex Reed, noted that Ira's return to the theater marked a collaboration with Weill for Lady in the Dark, a tuner focused on psychotherapy and the fashion world, starring Gertrude Lawrence and newcomer Victor Mature, whom mused Reed "couldn't dance, couldn't sing and couldn't act!" From the score the stately and divine Polly Bergen sang "My Ship," with the pointed longing for ones own true love.
West Coast troubadour Kurt Reichenbach crooned "This Is New" from the same score. Due to a decisive pitch problem, the song as performed in the original show was withdrawn from Mature and performed as a solo by Lawrence. Reichenbach set the mood quite comfortably.
A dazzling Lucie Arnaz with gams that go on forever, gave a brightly buoyant take for the Weill-Gershwin "Sing Me Not a Love Song" from The Firebrand of Florence. Arnaz also offered a torrid take on "Island in the West Indies," set to a Vernon Duke revue tune, and "Fun to be Fooled." The latter was a collaboration with composer Arlen and lyricist E.Y. "Yip" Harburg, written in 1934 while George was putting the final touches on Porgy and Bess. Arnaz captured the allure and wit of the song as "that Old Debbil Moon has his fling once more."
Gershwin paired with Kern for Cover Girl, a Columbia Technicolor tuner that starred Gene Kelly and Rita Hayworth. Broadway's Tom Wopat nicely crooned "A Sure Thing," followed by Bergen's wistfully plaintive reading of "Long Ago (and Far Away)."
Ira, with the assist of composer Kay Swift, retrieved some of George's discarded trunk tunes for a Betty Grable-Dick Haymes bomb called The Shocking Miss Pilgrim. Linda Purl framed "For You, For Me, For Evermore" distinctly, while Reed offered a cautiously reflective take on "Changing My Tune."
Ira Gershwin's final glory was his union with Harold Arlen for A Star is Born, the film that revived a flagging career for Judy Garland. Arnaz, with assist of her leading men turned "Gotta Have Me Go with You" into a dapper vaudeville turn, while Purl defined the unfolding of Never-Never Land in "It's a New World," but it was Bergen who carried the torch with "The Man That Got Away." The torch song has seldom revealed such grandeur and heartbreak.
Tedd Firth provided the arrangements and piano accompaniment for the concert, and all the composers were distinctively well served. The audience was invited to sing along for the last song composed by George for the film, The Goldwyn Follies:
"In time the Rockies may crumble,
Glbraltar may tumble
(They're only made of clay)-
But our love is here to stay