Straker's New End performance comes straight from the Hart

PUBLISHED: 12:10 22 June 2007 | UPDATED: 14:34 07 September 2010

Peter Straker welcomes the chance to play in a small, intmate theatre without the use of artificial aids, Bridget Galton writes A MUSICAL journey through the life and lyrics of Lorenz Hart promises a treat for fans of Broadway show tunes. Blue Moon, M

Peter Straker welcomes the chance to play in a small, intmate theatre without the use of artificial aids, Bridget Galton writes

A MUSICAL journey through the life and lyrics of Lorenz Hart promises a treat for fans of Broadway show tunes.

Blue Moon, My Funny Valentine, The Lady Is A Tramp and Have You Met Miss Jones? are among the classics performed by the talented cast of five in From The Hart at New End Theatre in Hampstead.

Hart, a gay Jewish New Yorker, met musical genius Richard Rodgers at university. And, for the next 25 years, they formed a successful song-writing partnership.

But the troubled Hart had a fondness for drink and, in November 1943, he was discovered inebriated in the snow after the opening night of A Conneticut Yankee.

He died of pneumonia five days later.

Rodgers is played by Peter Straker, a veteran of large scale musicals such as Hair, Blues In The Night and The Rocky Horror Show.

He says there is a particular challenge in more intimate "chamber pieces".

"It's an acoustic piece," says the Jamaican-born performer, who lives in Marylebone.

"We have no mics, just a piano and a double bass, with us all doing the harmonies. It's a real challenge - but one I enjoy.

"The audience can look up your nose and see whether you have cleaned your ears.

"It's very open, you are very vulnerable. But that's the wonderful thing about performing - if you have the nerve to do it."

Straker says hearing the songs without a huge backing band can make it easier to appreciate Hart's genius.

"He was a romantic who had dark places - a fondness for liquor, disastrous taste in sleeping partners and he physically wasn't that attractive.

"But he wrote fantastic lyrics and is one of the great writers of internal rhymes. He formed an extraordinary relationship with Rodgers, writing melodies which still stand up today.

"Everyone said his lyrics were too clever and wouldn't work. But he tried to take musicals to another level and said you shouldn't treat the public as if they were idiots.

"I think people listen more in a more intimate space.

"We are not used to listening any more. People go and see a show with music in a big venue and everything is so amplified you just sit back and think, 'That's a nice tune.'"

Straker's first job was almost 40 years ago in the original cast of Hair, starring alongside Elaine Paige, Tim Curry and Paul Nicholas in the notoriously nude musical.

He was totally untrained but was called back to audition nine times - always wearing the same jacket and cowboy-style necktie so the casting director would remember him.

"When you are young you have a lot of nerve.

"So when they asked me back for the last audition, they asked if I could wear something a bit more hip. I went to Carnaby Street and bought striped white pants and got the part.

"The nakedness didn't go on for long but, of course, it was all that people remember.

"My nice middle-class Jamaican mum drove me to the first day of rehearsal and said, 'I am not quite sure this is what you should be doing for your first West End show.'"

Straker went on to appear in a string of musicals and, in the 70s, had a career as a glam rock singer, making five albums, including one produced by his long-standing friend Freddie Mercury.

"It was fantastic, I had a great time. But it's such hard work. If they don't play your records you don't stand a chance. In those days, the BBC decided whether you should be listened to or not."

He got to know Mercury around the time his band Queen shot to fame with Bohemian Rhapsody.

"It was a wonderful friendship. He was crazy but wonderful - very creative and inventive with a remarkable voice.

"We liked the same things - tennis, football, cricket. We would phone each other from all over the world to talk about the scores."

Starker, who still gets fan mail after appearing in four episodes of Dr Who opposite Tom Baker in the 70s, now hopes to pursue more classical, non-musical

acting roles.

"I don't mind admitting, I have always wanted to be a proper actor."

From The Hart runs at the New End Theatre until September 2.

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