Blake Bowden is currently playing the lead role of Elder Price in the musical The Book of Mormon. In July he premiered his new concert show Straight from the Hart at Noosa Alive! Accompanied by a nine-piece band, the show celebrates lyricist Lorenz Hart’s tumultuous life, his wonderfully witty way with words, and his collaboration with Richard Rodgers. Bowden has also released an EP featuring six of the songs. He talks to Limelight about the project.
Blake Bowden. Photographs supplied
Why did you decide to focus on Lorenz Hart for your new cabaret show?
I have always been drawn to music from the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s. I think so much of what we listen to today is heavily influenced by that period of writing. But mostly I was drawn to Lorenz because of the depth and the wit of his lyrics. It isn’t always true that what a lyricist writes is autobiographical but you can not help but feel like you get to know Lorenz Hart the more you listen to his songs.
What is it about his writing that you love?
I feel like his words reveal so much about the man, the life he lived, the way he felt and what he thought about so much from love, friendships, marriage, art, everything! And it is the constant subtle sense of humour that colours all his lyrics, even the more moving ones, that I just absolutely love and am drawn too. It is as though this man, who obviously felt so deeply about so much and who wrote the ultimate songs of heartbreak and complex love, also never took life that seriously and was already ready to make you smile.
Can you tell us how you have structured the show? Do you tell his life story?
The show is a love letter to Lorenz Hart. We try and reveal as much about his life, through his lyrics and ultimately through his relationship with Richard Rodgers. We tell his story but the show is not autobiographical in the strictest sense, what we try to do is reveal more about the man himself and how his lyrics allow us to see deeper into who he really was.
There was quite a dark side to his life – alcoholism, depression, hiding his sexuality. Do you explore that?
Absolutely we explore that! It is in many ways the most interesting aspect to his person. And I ultimately think that is why his art is so good. What we hint at in the show, because really we will never know for sure as he died so young, is that one of the reasons his lyrics are so wonderful is because it is like Lorenz was always hiding something and he subtly places throughout his works hints at what he was really feeling and thinking, he used his lyrics to express those inner thoughts that he felt he could never express to his family and friends.
I know you performed with a nine-piece band in Noosa which sounds amazing. Do you hope to always do that or could you also perform it with a smaller ensemble?
The band in Noosa were just incredible and the arrangements by Jack Earle sounded so good and added so much to the show. I think we will try to do the show with nine pieces again in the coming year and actually our hope is that due to the nature of the songs we would like to do it bigger and maybe incorporate a whole orchestra. I would love to hear the incredible melodies of Richard Rodgers with a full orchestra playing them.
You have played Mario Lanza before in your cabaret show Mario. How much does cabaret mean to you and why?
I love cabaret because it allows story telling and music to come together so brilliantly. Yet Straight From The Hart is much more a concert than it is a cabaret like Mario was. Yes, I explore Lorenz and his life, but we allow his lyrics and the beautiful melodies of Richard Rodgers to do most of the story telling for us.
Do you enjoy being able to do that while also performing in The Book of Mormon?
It has been such a gift to be able to do both things simultaneously. There is nothing quite like being in a big Broadway musical and The Book of Mormon is by far the best one I have ever been involved with, but being able to use your own voice and tell stories that matter to me is also really important.
Can you tell us which tracks you have recorded on the EP?
We have done six new versions of what we felt where some of the greatest and most loved of Lorenz Hart’s and Richard Rodgers’ songs. They are Where or When, Manhattan, My Funny Valentine, Blue Moon, With A Song In My Heart and This Funny World.
Daniel Edmonds was the Musical Director of the show. Was he also involved with the recording?
Yes, Daniel is the MD and arranger for both the show and the EP. We actually started out this whole process attempting to record an album of reimagined Rodgers and Hart songs, it then morphed into a show, as there were so many songs that we loved and there was such an interesting story to be told about Lorenz’s life, that we felt a show needed to be heard. The EP is a reflection of what we would love a full album of Hart songs to sound like one day if we both have the time to record more.
Can you tell us what you hope audiences will take away from Straight from the Hart?
I hope that they have a great time listening to these absolutely timeless songs and that they are also moved by Lorenz’s incredible life story and the music and words that carry this story so brilliantly. I hope they leave with a deeper appreciation and understanding of what made, in my humble opinion, the greatest American lyricist of the 20th century tick.
Blake Bowden’s EP Straight from the Hart is available as a physical copy for purchase on his website (www.blakebowden.com) and for download and streaming on online services including iTunes, Apple Music, Spotify, Google Play Store and Amazon