Over the weekend, I drifted to my nearest local EZY video shop. While waiting to be served, I drifted to the comedy, musicals, and the crime sections. It was the musicals that greatly attracted my interest. I’ve always loved musicals, something amiss nowadays, replaced by films with much violence, sexual overtones, political, science fiction and other action-packed Hollywood offerings. Slowly, my thoughts lingered to refreshing movies with music – The Sound of Music, Carousel, South Pacific, Camelot, My Fair Lady, and Mary Poppins among others. Yes, I particularly mean movie musicals!
Soon enough my memories wafted to the greatest musical collaboration of all time, that of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, the most successful legendary songwriting team in musical theatre history. Rodgers wrote the music, and Hammerstein wrote the lyrics. Most of the stage musicals of Rodgers and Hammerstein were made into movies, also with phenomenal success, in particular, The Sound of Music.
At 16, Richard Rodgers (1902-1979) initially wrote a number of successful songs with Lorenz Hart, a partnership that lasted for over twenty years. Hart died in 1943. The same year Rodgers and Hammerstein (1895-1960) teamed up and started their first musical collaboration with Oklahoma! based on a play called ‘Green Grow the Lilacs’ by Lynn Riggs. Oklahoma! is very different from most musicals written up to that time where they were mainly songs and comedy, with little plot. Usually, the songs had little to do with the story. Oklahoma! has a plot. The songs either help move the plot along or help the audience understand the characters. The story is partly fun, and has a serious side too. This is because Rodgers’s background was mostly in the old-style, "fun" musicals, while Hammerstein’s background was in opera and operetta—more "serious" types of music. When Rodgers worked with Hart, he wrote the music first, and then Hart wrote the lyrics. But in this new team, Hammerstein wrote the lyrics first and Rodgers created the music to fit.
Audiences loved Oklahoma!. It played on Broadway for 2,248 performances, breaking all Broadway box office records for shows until that time. It also won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1944, which changed the face of stage musicals – an emotional story told through music, dance and lyrics as never before. After Oklahoma! Rodgers and Hammerstein went on to create Carousel, South Pacific, The King and I and The Sound of Music. The impact on these shows for Broadway and amateur stage, both in terms of popular appeal and their influence on other writers, was overwhelming.
Carousel, the duo’s next big hit in 1945, had an even more dramatic plot than Oklahoma!. Instead of the usual overture before the show begins, the show opens with the whole cast performing a ballet as the orchestra plays.
South Pacific, written in 1949, and based on ‘Tales from the South Pacific’ by novelist James A. Michener, is set during World War II. It has the most serious plot of any Rodgers and Hammerstein show because it confronts both war and racism. South Pacific also won the Pulitzer Prize.
The King and I is about conflicts between cultures. It is based on a true story about Anna Leonowens, a British governess who went to Siam (now Thailand) to teach the king’s children. Anna finds life in Siam very different from what she is accustomed to, but she and the king come to like each other despite their differences.
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s final collaboration was The Sound of Music, in 1959. It is also based on a true story, about a young novice nun who becomes the governess for seven children of a widower, Captain Von Trapp. This musical also has a serious side—it is set in the days of Nazi Germany, and the Von Trapp family’s freedom is at stake. The beautiful song "Edelweiss" from The Sound of Music was the last song Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote together. Hammerstein died of cancer on August 23, 1960. After Hammerstein's death, Rodgers wrote other shows with other lyricists, including Stephen Sondheim, but none reached the heights of his work with Hammerstein.
For always, I will relish the most beautiful and poignant legacy of their partnership. How can I forget such immortal, refreshing, and most wonderful hit songs on stage and film history as these:
Oklahoma! - "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'," "People Will Say We're in Love," "Many a New Day," "I Can't Say No," and the final rousing chorus of "Oklahoma!" itself.
Carousel – "You’ll Never Walk alone" and "If I loved You."
South Pacific – "There is Nothin' Like a Dame," "This Nearly was Mine," "Younger Than Springtime" and "Some Enchanted Evening."
The King and I – "Getting to Know You," "I Whistle a Happy Tune," "Something Wonderful" and "Hello, Young Lovers."
The Sound of Music – "Edelweiss," "My Favorite Things", "Climb Ev'ry Mountain," "The Lonely Goatherd", as well as the title song.
Who knows, we might yet have another Rodgers and Hammerstein in the making, an anodyne to all these turbulence and disarray in our world today. As I write this, nearby, my sound system is playing Carousel, softly beckoning me to join in. That I never cease listening to their music and at times singing their songs is a privilege. I’m at it now, " … how I loved you… if I loved you."
Tel Asiado is an Information Technology professional turned writer, author and consultant. Employed by multi-national organizations in information technology, computing and consulting, she has several years of varied experience as project manager, business solution manager, process and information analyst, and as a business writer. Her writings also reflect her passions for inspirational/motivational and Christian insights, and classical music. Visit one of her websites: http://inspiredpen.4t.com