Later Rodgers: Rarities from REX (1976)

Welcome to a new Musical Theatre Monday! In this month’s entry, we’re celebrating Rex (1976), the notoriously ill-fated Henry VIII musical with a score by Richard Rodgers and Sheldon Harnick that began its out-of-town previews 42 years ago this week (on February 20, 1976). I have an audio recording of this first performance to share with subscribers who comment below voicing their interest — and if you’re not yet subscribed, please do so!

I’m quite fond of Rex and consider it Rodgers’ second most melodic work following the passing of his collaborator Oscar Hammerstein II (rivaled only in my estimation by Rodgers’ efforts with Sondheim on 1965’s Do I Hear A Waltz?), and urge all curious parties who’ve yet to sample this score to purchase the Original Broadway Cast recording, which features Nicol Williamson, Penny Fuller, Tom Aldredge, Barbara Andres, Glenn Close, and Ed Evanko.

There, you’ll enjoy treasures like “Away From You” (above – from the cast album), “As Once I Loved You,” “No Song More Pleasing,” “Elizabeth,” and “So Much You Loved Me” (below – from the tryout preview audio), the last of which has the same melody as “From Afar” but was deleted before the Broadway opening in a contentious developmental period that didn’t fix Rex‘s obvious problems (and instead compounded them). Many songs were discarded and added during this process, as the show dealt with a temperamental star, contrasting directorial visions, and a difficult central character.

Harnick and bookwriter Sherman Yellen revisited Rex in advance of a 2000 Musicals at Mufti production, for which they updated the troubled text — by zeroing in on Henry’s quest for a male heir and beefing up the second act’s utilization of Elizabeth I — and tinkered with the tunestack, reinstating gems like “So Much You Loved Me” and Henry’s 11 o’clock death bed solo, the outstanding “The Pears Of Anjou,” which Harnick recorded (heard below).

I’d love to share the entire score with you in this post. But, instead, I’ll reiterate that I’m happy to offer commenting subscribers access to the February 20, 1976 audio — the first time the rocky Rex was performed for an audience — along with a selection of demos featuring Rose Marie Jun and Stan Stanley (hear the latter sing “As Once I Loved You,” below) and an audio of a 2002 concert consisting entirely of CUT material.



Come back next month for another Musical Theatre entry! And tune in tomorrow for more Frasier!