The Sound of Music: Enchanting Melodies of Rodgers and Hammerstein
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Richard Rodgers (1902-1979)
Enchanting Melodies of Rodgers and Hammerstein II
Pre-eminent in his contributions to musical theatre andthe film-musical, and one of the finest of twentiethcenturypopular songwriters, pianist-composer andproducer Richard Charles Rodgers was born at LongIsland, New York on 28th June, 1902. The son ofdoctor of medicine William Abraham Rodgers andpianist Mamie Levy, his keyboard skills and composingflair were encouraged from an early age and as aschoolboy 'Dick' reputedly spent his pocket-money atSaturday matinees of Jerome Kern musicals. He is alsosaid to have written his first song at the age of elevenand his earliest surviving song, 'My Auto Show Girl',when he was fourteen, yet for several years his activitywas confined to writing music and occasionally lyricsfor social club shows until his talent was firstrecognised, by Max Dreyfus of Harms musicpublishers, around 1917. The following year, at sixteen,he enrolled at Columbia University and there met hisfirst major collaborator in a fellow New Yorker, thelyricist Lorenz Hart (1895-1943).
Hart had already had experience as a 'ghost' lyricistfor, among others, Billy Rose, before he co-wrote withRodgers a single item for the short-lived 1919Broadway musical A Lonely Romeo. The Rodgers-Hartteam began to write for Broadway in earnest with PoorLittle Ritz Girl (1920) but their first real Golden Milebreak came in 1925 with their contributions to TheGarrick Gaieties. In the media of stage and screen (theywere based in Hollywood from 1931 to 1935), theywere soon to become the most applauded of the inter-War-year song-writing duos, co-writing (or at leastcontributing to) 35 musicals and 23 films, in a 25-yearworking partnership that ended only with Hart'spremature death, after a long illness, on 22ndNovember, 1943.
Hart survived long enough to attend the premi?¿re ofOklahoma!, the show which launched Rodgers'working association with an old friend who was tobecome his second major lyricist. The grandson of thecelebrated German-born entrepreneur and operaimpresario Oscar Hammerstein I (1846-1919), lyricistauthorand producer Oscar Greeley ClendenningHammerstein II had the theatre in his blood. He had,moreover, during the 1920s and 1930s, acquired areputation in operetta equal to Rodgers's own standingin musical comedy. Born in New York City on 12thJuly, 1895, Oscar Jr. grew up a scion of one ofBroadway's most formidable dynasties (his uncle,Arthur Hammerstein, was the acclaimed producer of,among other shows, Naughty Marietta, Firefly and RoseMarie), although he took no real interest in the theatreuntil his college days.
A student at New York's Hamilton Institute from1904, in 1912 Oscar Hammerstein enrolled at ColumbiaUniversity, graduating with a B.A., in law, in 1916.
While at Columbia he took various acting leads, andeven wrote books and lyrics for Columbia Players'productions, but was a practicing attorney beforedeciding, after some persuasion from his uncle, to makethe theatre his niche. Having first gained theatricalexperience as both stage-hand and stage-manager, hefirst wrote a few plays, all of which flopped, prior tomaking his Broadway musical entree, although againinitially with only limited success, as librettist-lyriciston Herbert Stothart's short-lived Always You, in 1920.
Further essays followed, with Otto Harbach and othersas co-writer, before Vincent Youmans' musicalWildflower (1923) marked Hammerstein out as alibrettist-lyricist of genius who, for Nicolas Slonimsky,combined 'appealing sentiment and sophisticatednostalgia...particularly well suited to the moderntheater'.
The landmark stage works of Hammerstein's pre-Rodgers operetta and musical comedy years includedRose Marie (with Sigmund Romberg) 1924, Sunny(with Jerome Kern) and Song Of The Flame (withStothart and George Gershwin) both 1925, The DesertSong (with Romberg) and The Wild Rose (with RudolfFriml) both 1926, Show Boat (with Kern) 1927, TheNew Moon (with Romberg) 1928, Music In The Air(with Kern) 1924 and Carmen Jones (music by Bizet)1943. His screen-credits, apart from adaptations ofthese stage-scores, include Viennese Nights (score byRomberg, 1930), Give Us This Night (score by ErichWolfgang Korngold, 1936), High, Wide And Handsome(score by Kern, 1937) and The Great Waltz (score byDimitri Tiomkin, 1938).
The 1944 Pulitzer Prize winner, Oklahoma! (1943),at 2,212 performances (a record that remained unbrokenuntil My Fair Lady, in 1956) enjoyed one of the longesteverruns in the United States. The first example of anovertly romantic new genre dubbed 'the musical play',a hybrid fusion of musical comedy and operetta, andbased on Lynn Riggs's 1931 play Green Grow TheLilacs, it was the culmination of the old-style musical inthe tradition of Show Boat. First produced on theLondon stage in 1947 (1548 performances), the musicalscore of its 1955 Technicolor film production won anAcademy Award. Oklahoma!'s sequel Carousel (1945),heralded by Brooks Atkinson as 'the most glorious ofthe Rodgers and Hammerstein works' (and Rodgers'own personal favourite), allegorised in a modern idiomthe triumph of love over evil. Adapted by Hammersteinfrom Liliom, a 1909 play by the Hungarian novelistdramatistFerenc? Molnar frequently given in New Yorkfrom 1921 onwards, its initial Donaldson AwardwinningBroadway run lasted for 890 performances.
First produced in London in 1950, it was filmed byTwentieth Century Fox in 1956.
The only Rodgers and Hammerstein collaborationthat did not start out as a stage-show was the film StateFair (Twentieth Century Fox, 1945, starring CharlesWinninger, Jeanne Crain, Dana Andrews, Vivian Blaineand Dick Haymes). Awarded an Oscar for the song 'ItMight As Well Be Spring', it also earned a Nominationfor its musical direction, under Alfred Newman. (A newversion, adapted from the film musical in 1992 by TomBriggs and Louis Mattioli, opened on Broadway in1996). Rodgers and Hammerstein's next Broadwayventure, Allegro (315 performances, 1947) wasfollowed, in 1949, by the magnificent, idyllic SouthPacific. With libretto by Hammerstein and his coproducerJoshua Logan (1908-1988), its compellingplot (based on two separate episodes from JamesMitchener's Tales Of The South Pacific),complemented by some immortally nostalgic Rodgerstunes and Mary Martin and emeritus MetropolitanOpera bass Ezio Pinza in the leading parts, made it asure winner. Following an initial Broadway run of 1925performances, its outstanding popularity led to a tour of118 American cities and, opening in London inNovember 1951, it ran for a further 802 performances.
The long-awaited 1958 screening, however, a $5millionMagna spectacular, starring Mitzi Gaynor and RossanoBrazzi, with overdubbed vocals by the opera baritoneGiorgio Tozzi, paled alongside the original show.
Staged two years after South Pacific, the story ofThe King And I was already familiar to a wide audiencevia the acclaimed 1946 Twentieth Century Fox filmversionstarring Rex Harrison and Irene Dunne.
Similarly based on Margaret Landon's novel Anna AndThe King Of Siam (the idea for a show was suggested byGertrude Lawrence, the original Anna Leonowens) theRodgers-Hammerstein Broadway musical versionopened in March 1951 and ran for 1246 performances,Yul Bynner's earnest portrayal of the King earning hima Tony. Its subsequent London production (1953,starring Valerie Hobson and Herbert Lom) ran a further946 performances. Filmed in Cinemascope by Fox in1956, with the Oscar-nominated Deborah Kerr and theOscar-winning Brynner taking the leads, the filmmusicalwon in total four Awards and four Nominationsand later, on stage, the show-version was frequentlyrevived (notably on Broadway in 1977 and 1985 andLondon in 1979).
A series of tuneful if however less enduring worksfollowed, including Me And Juliet (1953; 358pe