Showcase March-April 2015 - page 32

Program Note
19, 20, 21, 22
Richard Rodgers
June 28, 1902, Long Island, New York
December 30, 1979, New York City
Oscar Hammerstein II
July 12, 1895, New York City
August 23, 1960, Doylestown, Pennsylvania
uppose for a moment that after a chance meeting at
your workplace, you quickly fall in love and marry.
But having an ill temper and an assortment of vices, you
aren’t exactly a model citizen, and becoming jobless adds
extra strain. When tragedy strikes, all seems lost—but is
it ever too late for redemption? This is the scenario that
spins at the center of
was the second collaboration of Rodgers and
Hammerstein—one the most phenomenal partnerships
in the history of the arts, so strong and enduring that it
is almost impossible to think of one member without the
other, much like Gilbert and Sullivan, Lerner and Loewe
or Laurel and Hardy.
a winning team
Composer Richard Rodgers and librettist-lyricist Oscar
Hammerstein II wrote nine Broadway musicals together—
five of them hits of the highest order. Their collaboration
began in 1943 with
and ended 16 years later
The Sound of Music
. In between came three more
solid hits,
Carousel, South Pacific
The King and I
along with four others that weren’t quite in the same
Flower Drum Song, Allegro, Me and Juliet
. They also crafted a film musical,
State Fair
, along
with one for television,
. Together they collected
35 Tony Awards and 15 Academy Awards.
Rodgers may be the most-played composer of any
kind of music who ever lived. He wrote more than 900
songs, dozens of them known in nearly every American
household and in many more throughout the world.
“Right from the moment you hear a tune,” says conductor
John Mauceri, “he’s invited you in. And yet, once you’re
in this tune, he does these very subtle things that make
the tune unique.” There is almost always a Rodgers
show playing somewhere. Every year more than 4,000
productions of his musicals are mounted throughout the
As for Hammerstein, over the course of his life, he
collaborated on 850 songs with composers like Jerome
Kern, Vincent Youmans, Rudolf Friml, Sigmund Romberg
and, above all, Richard Rodgers. As film and drama critic
Judith Crist wrote: “Hammerstein brought more than
skill as a lyricist. He brought an atmosphere of sincerity,
a depth of emotion and a seriousness of both moral and
dramatic values. Above all, he brought a sense of poetry
and optimism that matched the gay evanescence and
melodic lyricism of the composer.”
Rodgers and Hammerstein first combined their talents
during their college days at Columbia University in
New York, but they were well along in their respective
careers before they teamed up on Broadway. Then,
working together on a regular basis, they began to break
traditions, taboos and stereotypes. In an unusual reversal
of standard procedure, Hammerstein wrote the lyrics
first and Rodgers then set them to music. They dealt with
controversial, serious subjects like racial prejudice, mixed-
race relationships, death, the afterlife, violence against
women and political oppression—but with a light touch.
And what a change they brought! No longer did it
suffice to build a string of unrelated songs, dances and
choral numbers around a silly, plotless idea: now story,
dialogue, song, dance, costumes, lighting and music were
integrated into an artistic whole, a “symphony of sight
and sound,” as Judith Crist put it. In other words, these
were musical
, not musical
. The story, not
the stars or the songs, was preeminent.
one hit after another
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s first major collaboration,
, was a monster hit, running for 2,212
performances over more than five years
This created a
challenge: what could they possibly do as a follow-up
that would compare favorably? The solution came from
an unexpected source—
, a fantasy drama by the
Hungarian playwright Ferenc Molnár that had premiered
in Budapest in 1909 and gradually became very popular.
It was mounted in New York City in English translation
first in 1921 and again in 1940, this time starring Burgess
Richard Rodgers Oscar Hammerstein II
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