The whole enchilada, with show tunes
Oscar Hammerstein II wrote lyrics for 850 songs, but the singers at La Casa Sena may have to narrow things down if they hope to have time to serve dinner and drinks. The Cantina at La Casa Sena, where the singing wait staff has a cult following among tourists and locals alike, is offering once-a-month engagements with special themes and visiting performers through Christmas. Let’s Celebrate Oscar Hammerstein II is the first show, on Sunday, May 23.
Greg Grissom, who has worked at La Casa Sena “off and on for 18 years,” is producing the events, which will feature everything from the Hammerstein songs to evenings of jazz clarinet tunes by Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, and others; tributes to Judy Garland, Oscar Peterson, Cole Porter, and the Andrews Sisters; and a performance by jazz trumpet player Bobby Shew. “We specialize in dead people — the great musicians who are no longer with us,” Grissom said in an interview. “I think it’s important that the generations of tomorrow see where popular music came from.”
Things might be even more intimate than usual at the 80-seat Cantina come Sunday, when the 5-by-5-foot playing area will be occupied by the Cal Haines Trio (Haines, drums; Bert Dalton, piano; and Milo Jaramillo, bass) and all the Cantina singers on board. “We’re using all seven singers, because there’s a lot of history to cover with Mr. Hammerstein,” Grissom said.
Hammerstein may be best known for his collaboration with Richard Rogers, which produced the musicals Oklahoma!, The Sound of Music, Carousel, and South Pacific. He began his career in the 1920s, writing lyrics for operettas with composers such as Sigmund Romberg ( The Desert Song), Vincent Youmans ( Wildflower), and Rudolf Friml ( Rose-Marie), and he had a 20-year partnership with fellow lyricist Otto Harbach (“Indian Love Call”). A 1927 project with composer Jerome Kern allowed Hammerstein to develop the book for a musical that was as important as the songs in it. That project was Show Boat.
It was the shows Hammerstein wrote with Rogers, however, that built a major place for him in the American songbook: “Some Enchanted Evening,” “Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair,” and “There Is Nothing Like a Dame” from South Pacific; “People Will Say We’re in Love” and the title song from Oklahoma!; “Getting to Know You” from The King and I; and “Climb Every Mountain” from The Sound of Music. The last song Hammerstein wrote was “Edelweiss.” He died in 1960, shortly after The Sound of Music opened to its multiple-year run on Broadway.
Grissom, who narrates the tribute, has been scouring the internet for Hammerstein trivia. “The song ‘All the Things You Are’ was from a show called Very Warm for May,” he said. “Hammerstein was apparently devastated when the review came