No composer of popular songs has been more admired by his peers, from Gershwin and Kern to Rogers, Herman and Sondheim, than the creator of "Over the Rainbow," "Stormy Weather," "St. Louis Woman," "Blues in the Night," "Minnie the Moocher," "That Old Black Magic" and "Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive."
The name? Harold Arlen. From hundreds of his songs, about 50 appear in "Sweet and Hot," a new revue devised by Berthe Schuchat and director Ken Bloom, playing Tuesdays through Sundays at the New Playwrights' Theater, 1742 Church St. NW.
Arlen's career has been unusual. Instead of book shows, the night clubs were the first to hear some of his hits - Ethel Waters singing "Stormy Weather," Cab Calloway "Minnie the Moocher." There were 15 years from Garland's "Rainbow" to her "The Man Who Got Away." From Bill Robinson and Groucho Marx to Bing and Ole Blue Eyes, from Lyda Roberti to Mary Martin and Pearl Bailey, singers sailed on Arlen's melodies.Introduced in one film, some of his tunes have been reprised in a half-dozen others.
Arlen had terrible luck with his "book" shows (his best known were "Bloomer Girl" and "Jamaica"). All his contemporaries were luckier. He had better luck with his lyricists, most notably E. Y. Harburg, Johnny Mercer and Ira Gershwin.
Individual songs from NPT's smoothly staged revue. The nine performers, backed by arranger Bob Davis' three instrumentalists, haven't much in the vocal department, with the exception of Delphine Lester. The total effect is both pleasing and frustrating.
Rather than several of the lesser known songs, I would have preferred inclusion of the verses for the hits which are jammed together in a medley.
NPT's theater is arranged cabaret-style (wine and beer) and Russell Metheny's art deco decor is clever, as is choreography Michelle Gordon set for "Public Melody Number One." Reservations at 232-1122.