Theater Interview: WAYNE BRYAN (Co-Creator, Director and Host of “Straight to the Heart, A Tribute to the Legacy of Rodgers & Hart” at Dezart Performs in Palm Springs)

Post image for Theater Interview: WAYNE BRYAN (Co-Creator, Director and Host of “Straight to the Heart, A Tribute to the Legacy of Rodgers & Hart” at Dezart Performs in Palm Springs)

by Jason Mannino on June 12, 2024

in Concerts / Events,Theater-Palm Springs (Coachella Valley)


Dezart Performs has always been one of the most ambitious, bold and successful theater companies in the Coachella Valley. Now the company is planning a new state-of-the-art home in Cathedral City, which is slated to be ready by the 25/26 season (donate here). As part of the company’s “Next Stage Campaign” to raise remaining capital, they are producing a new intimate summer event Cabaret at the Pearl (in the Pearl McManus Theater) by presenting Straight to the Heart, a 90-minute celebration of the lives and careers of songwriting team Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart., which opens next Friday, June 21, 2024.


Straight to the Heart will be more than just a performance of the Rodgers & Hart songbook. It is a unique blend of traditional cabaret and musical theatre. offering insights into the songs’ origins, the groundbreaking shows they were featured in, and the memorable characters who sang them. Audiences will also learn about the two dynamic creators whose conflicting approaches to life and work came together to create unforgettable songs filled with wit, melody, and deep human emotion.

Conceived and hosted by Broadway veterans Dennis Courtney and Wayne Bryan, the cast features Broadway vetes Kim Huber and Tim Ewing, plus local favorites Patrick Wallace and Jenne Carey, and special guest Barbara Kerr, with musical direction by another local favorite, Joel Baker.

Jason Mannino talked with co-creator and director Wayne Bryan for Stage and Cinema.

S&C: What was the inspiration for Straight to the Heart?

Wayne Bryan: Dennis (Courtney) and I have been friends from New York for years and collaborated on productions at Music Theatre Wichita during my 34 years there as Artistic Director. We have been paying close attention to the local theatre and music scene since we arrived in Palm Springs a couple of years ago. Our intention has been to discover gaps we could fill with challenging, collaborative projects that would appeal to Palm Springs’ audiences. This kind of uniquely themed cabaret/theatre /TED talk is something we’ve both enjoyed collaborating on in the past and seemed to be missing from the local scene. We have been working on this show casually for over a year. We were both very inspired by Dezarts’ work this season and felt that a show like this could help keep the company on the “radar” between seasons as it continues to fundraise for the new theater they are building. So, when Dezarts’ Artistic Director Michael Shaw offered to present this show as the inaugural Cabaret at the Pearl we kicked it into high gear. Also, I was in the original Broadway production of the musical revue Rodgers and Hart, which has given me an intimate perspective and knowledge of their work.

Dennis Courtney

S&C:  While Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart are critical fixtures in the evolution of the American Musical Theater, what today makes knowing who they were as composer/lyricist team important?

WB: They were the first songwriters to think audiences were intelligent enough to welcome more than “spoon-June-moon” rhymes in songs, which had been the norm prior to their collaboration starting in 1917. Throughout the 20s and 30s, up until Hart’s death in 1943, they reliably lifted the theatrical landscape (and bountifully filled the Great American Songbook) with lyrics and melodies that are still being recorded by contemporary artists. They explored complex feelings and emotions and dealt with increasingly adult subject matter — all the while delivering unprecedented wit and depth in the lyrics, set to Rodgers’ “constantly surprising refrains” in the music. They also were innovators for Broadway – their show Jumbo was truly a precursor to Cirque du Soleil. On Your Toes included Russian ballet into the choreography for the first time. Pal Joey introduced the immoral “anti-hero” to the musical stage. They were the first to adapt Shakespeare to a musical with the Boys from Syracuse.

While the team of Rodgers and Hammerstein is remembered today for their beautifully constructed shows (Oklahoma!, South Pacific, etc.), the earlier team of Rodgers and Hart is celebrated for the clever and enduring songs they created for projects that may not have stood the test of time. Singers love them, they were sung by the likes of Diana Ross, Bobby Darren, lately Matt Damon (in The Talented Mr. Ripley), Lady Gaga and more. Artists find these songs every decade and make them their own. Early on it was the people of the era like Eddie Cantor. There is something about their songs that make them universal and timely. Larry Hart understood the human condition and would sometimes bend words to leverage rhyme.

Barbara Kerr

S&C: Three of the people in the cast were in your recent Industrial Strength Broadway? Tell us about working with them.

WB: There are so many in the Palm Springs area who had theater careers in NY along with the extraordinary local talent here. For Industrial Strength Broadway (IB) I had Jenne Cary, who is as bright a shining young performer with a tremendous vocal range. Patrick Wallace is just incredible, along with our local musical director Joel Baker. For IB I brought Kim Huber out from LA who was in the original Broadway cast of a few shows and who I have been working with since she was 18 when she came to Music Theatre Wichita, where she did more leading roles for me than anyone else. I’ve now seen Tim Ewing in the Razzle Dazzle cabaret at Palm Springs Cultural Center and I recently saw him do a wonderful job in Nice Work If You Can Get It at CV Rep. I love the sound of his voice, can’t and can’t imagine anyone else in it. I have had the privilege of working with Barbara Kerr in multiple capacities including last year’s Noel Coward revue, A Marvelous Party at CV Rep.

Tim Ewing

S&C: What do we think Oklahoma! would have become if Hart, originally slated for this partnership with Rodgers, had remained in tact?

WB: Rodgers and Hart are credited with saving the early 20th-century organization called the Theater Guild from the brink of bankruptcy with their song, Manhattan, that was featured in the musical revue The Garrick Gaieties in 1925. As a result, the organization thought of them as their saviors, and in 1943 invited Rodgers and Hart to turn one of the Guild’s previous plays, Green Grow the Lilacs, into a musical (which became Oklahoma!). At this point a strain developed between them. Their temperaments were quite different. Rodgers was very by the book and Hart was more a bon vivant. He was much beloved but never found romantic love. He was gay at a time you could not even talk about it. Rodgers by contrast was a successful ladies’ man. Hart, ultimately, turned to alcohol, which was noticeable by the time Pal Joey opened. The New York Times gave Pal Joey a terrible review, which crushed him and sent him further into alcoholism.

Jenne Carey

Rodgers had known Hammerstein almost as long as Hart. They all went to Columbia together. Hammerstein was working with Kern on Show Boat but they subsequently split up as well. By this time Hart had become unreliable and Rodgers approached Hammerstein to invite his collaboration on the musical. Hammerstein agreed to write with him if Hart gave his blessing, which he did. They opened Oklahoma!, which further integrated the innovations that Hammerstein and Kern had developed for Showboat. If Hart had done OK, it would be interesting to see if the innovations would have transpired.

Kim Huber

S&C: What can audiences expect from the show? And what do you want them to take away?

WB: For some audiences many of these songs will be a comfortable reminder of how great songwriting could be and the wonderful treasures in the American songbook. For instance, “The Lady Is a Tramp,” “Where or When,” “Blue Moon” will be reflective for some older audiences. Young audiences, ideally, will have the same sense of discovery that Lady Gaga and some new musicians are finding when they discover these deceptively sophisticated melodies.


Straight to the Heart, A Tribute to the Legacy of Rodgers & Hart
Dezarts Performs’ Cabaret at the Pearl
Pearl McManus Theater
at the Palm Springs Woman’s Club, 314 S Cahuilla Road in Palm Springs
June 21-23, 2024 at 7
pre-show social hour at 6; post-show happy hour and “Meet and Greet”
for tickets ($35), call 760.322.0179 x1 or visit Dezart Performs

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