Rodgers and Hammerstein
Rodgers and Hammerstein refers to an influential, innovative and successful American musical theatre writing team consisting of composer Richard Rodgers (1902–1979) and lyricist-dramatist Oscar Hammerstein II (1895–1960). They created a string of popular Broadway musicals in the 1940s and 1950s, initiating what is considered the “golden age” of musical theatre. Five of their Broadway shows, Oklahoma!, Carousel, South Pacific, The King and I and The Sound of Music, were outstanding successes, as was the television broadcast of Cinderella. Of the other four that the team produced on Broadway during their lifetimes, Flower Drum Song was well-received, and none was an outright flop. Most of their shows have received frequent revivals around the world, both professional and amateur. Among the many accolades their shows (and film versions) garnered were thirty-four Tony Awards, fifteen Academy Awards, the Pulitzer Prize, and two Grammy Awards.
Their musical theatre writing partnership has been called the greatest of the 20th century.
Previous Work and Partnerships
Prior to their partnership, both Rodgers and Hammerstein achieved success independently. Rodgers had collaborated for more than two decades with Lorenz Hart. Among their many Broadway hits were the shows A Connecticut Yankee (1927), Babes in Arms (1937), The Boys from Syracuse (1938), Pal Joey (1940), and By Jupiter (1942), as well as many successful film projects.
Hammerstein, a co-writer of the popular Rudolf Friml 1924 operetta Rose-Marie, and Sigmund Romberg operettas The Desert Song (1926) and The New Moon (1928), began a successful collaboration with composer Jerome Kern on Sunny (1925), which was a hit. Their 1927 musical Show Boat is considered to be one of the masterpieces of the American musical theatre. Other Hammerstein/Kern collaborations include Sweet Adeline (1929) and Very Warm for May (1939). Although the last of these was panned by critics, it contains one of Kern and Hammerstein’s best-loved songs, “All the Things You Are”.
By the early 1940s, Hart had sunk deeper into alcoholism and emotional turmoil, and he became unreliable, prompting Rodgers to approach Hammerstein to ask if he would consider working with him.
Oklahoma! was originally called Away We Go! and opened at the Shubert Theatre in New Haven in March 1943. Only a few changes were made before it opened on Broadway, but three would prove significant: the addition of a show-stopping number, “Oklahoma!”; the deletion of the musical number “Boys and Girls Like You and Me”, which would soon after be replaced with a reprise of “People Will Say We’re in Love”; and the decision to re-title the musical after the song.
The original Broadway production opened on March 31, 1943, at the St. James Theatre. Although the typical musical of the time was usually written around the talents of a specific performer, such as Ethel Merman or Fred Astaire, no stars were used in the production. Ultimately the original cast included Alfred Drake (Curly), Joan Roberts (Laurey), Celeste Holm (Ado Annie), Howard Da Silva (Jud Fry), Betty Garde (Aunt Eller), Lee Dixon (Will Parker) and Joseph Bulloff (Ali Hakim). Marc Platt danced the role of “Dream Curly”, and Katharine Sergava danced the part of “Dream Laurey”. In Oklahoma!, the story and the songs were considered more important than sheer star power. Nevertheless, the production ran for a then-unprecedented 2,212 performances, finally closing on May 29, 1948. Many enduring musical standards come from this show, among them “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'”, “The Surrey with the Fringe on Top”, “I Cain’t Say No”, the aforementioned “People Will Say We’re in Love”, and “Oklahoma!”.
In 1955 it was made into an Academy Award-winning musical film, the first feature shot with the Todd-AO 70 mm widescreen process. The film starred Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones, and its soundtrack was #1 on the 1956 album charts.
After their initial success with Oklahoma!, the pair took a break from working together and Hammerstein concentrated on the musical Carmen Jones, a Broadway version of Bizet’s Carmen with the characters changed to African Americans in the contemporary South, for which he wrote the book and lyrics. The musical was adapted to the screen in 1954, and scored a Best Actress Oscar nomination for leading lady Dorothy Dandridge.
Carousel was also revolutionary for its time – adapted from Ferenc Molnár’s play Liliom, it was one of the first musicals to contain a tragic plot about an antihero; it also contained an extended ballet that was crucial to the plot, and several extended musical scenes containing both sung and spoken material, as well as dance. The 1956 film version of Carousel, made in CinemaScope 55, again starred Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones, the same leads as the film version of Oklahoma!
Carousel is also unique among the Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals for not having an overture; both the stage and film versions began with the familiar Carousel Waltz. This music was included in John Mauceri’s Philips Records CD of the complete overtures of Rodgers and Hammerstein with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. It was also included in Rodgers’ rare 1954 album for Columbia Records with the composer conducting the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.
In 1969, the St. Louis Municipal Opera presented the world stage premiere of State Fair starring Ozzie and Harriet Nelson. The production was directed by James Hammerstein, supervised by Richard Rodgers and choreographed by Tommy Tune. State Fair finally arrived on Broadway on March 27, 1996, with Donna McKechnie and Andrea McArdle, produced by David Merrick, and received five Tony Award nominations.
South Pacific and important subsequent works
In the original production, Mary Martin starred as the heroine Nellie Forbush, and opera star Ezio Pinza starred as Emile de Becque, the French plantation owner. Also in the cast were Juanita Hall, Myron McCormick and Betta St. John. The 1958 film version, also directed by Logan, starred Mitzi Gaynor, Rossano Brazzi, John Kerr, Ray Walston, and Juanita Hall. Brazzi, Kerr, and Hall had their singing dubbed by others.
The King and I
It was adapted for film in 1956 with Brynner re-creating his role opposite Deborah Kerr (whose singing was largely dubbed by Marni Nixon). Brynner won an Oscar as Best Actor for his portrayal, and Kerr was nominated as Best Actress. Brynner reprised the role twice on Broadway in 1977 and 1985 and in a short-lived TV sitcom in 1972, Anna and the King.
Flower Drum Song
The Sound of Music
Rodgers and Hammerstein re-worked the musical theatre genre. Early 20th-century musicals, except for the Princess Theatre musicals and a few important examples like Hammerstein and Jerome Kern’s Show Boat, were usually whimsical or farcical, and typically built around a star. Because the efforts of Rodgers and Hammerstein were so successful, many musicals that followed contained thought-provoking plots with mature themes, and in which all the aspects of the play, dance, song, and drama, were combined in an integrated whole. Stephen Sondheim has cited Rodgers and Hammerstein as having had a crucial influence on his work.
Rodgers and Hammerstein also use the technique of what some call the “formula musical”. While some hail this approach, others criticize it for its predictability. The term “formula musical” may refer to a musical with a predictable plot, but it also refers to the casting requirements of Rodgers & Hammerstein characters. Typically, any musical from this team will have the casting of a strong baritone lead, a dainty and light soprano lead, a supporting lead tenor, and a supporting alto lead. Although there are exceptions to this generalization, it simplifies the audition process, and gives audiences an idea of what to expect vocally from a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. However, this formula had been used in Viennese operetta, such as The Merry Widow.
William A. Everett and Paul R. Laird wrote that Oklahoma!, “like Show Boat, became a milestone, so that later historians writing about important moments in twentieth-century theatre would begin to identify eras according to their relationship to Oklahoma!“ In The Complete Book of Light Opera, Mark Lubbock adds, “After Oklahoma!, Rodgers and Hammerstein were the most important contributors to the musical-play form – with such masterworks as Carousel, The King and I and South Pacific. The examples they set in creating vital plays, often rich with social thought, provided the necessary encouragement for other gifted writers to create musical plays of their own.”
In 1950, the team of Rodgers and Hammerstein received The Hundred Year Association of New York’s Gold Medal Award “in recognition of outstanding contributions to the City of New York.” They were also honored in 1999 with a United States Postal Service stamp commemorating their partnership. The Richard Rodgers Theatre in New York City is named after Rodgers. Forbes named Rodgers and Hammerstein second on its list of top-earning dead celebrities in 2009 at $235 million. In 2010, the original film arrangements of the team’s music were restored and performed at the Proms concerts in London’s Royal Albert Hall by the John Wilson Orchestra.
On television and Film
Rodgers and Hammerstein appeared on live telecasts several times. They were guests on the very first broadcast of Toast of the Town, the original name of The Ed Sullivan Show, when it debuted on CBS in June 1948. They were the mystery guests on episode number 298 of What’s My Line, which first aired on February 19, 1956; blindfolded panelist Bennett Cerf was able to correctly identify them.
The pair made a rare feature film appearance in MGM’s 1953 production Main Street to Broadway, in which Rodgers played the piano and Hammerstein sang a song they had written. They also appeared in the trailer for the film version of South Pacific in 1958.
While Rodgers and Hammerstein’s work contains cheerful and often uplifting songs, they departed from the comic and sentimental tone of early 20th century musicals by seriously addressing issues such as racism, sexism and classism in many of their works. For example, Carousel concerns domestic violence, while South Pacific addresses racism. Based on the true story of the von Trapp family, The Sound of Music explores the views of Austrians to the takeover of Austria by the Third Reich.
- Gordon, John Steele. Oklahoma’!’. Retrieved June 13, 2010
- Rodgers and Hammerstein began writing together before the era of the Tonys. Oklahoma! opened in 1943 and Carousel in 1945, but the first Tonys were not awarded until 1947.
- Lubbock, Mark. “American Musical Theatre: An Introduction”, theatrehistory.com, republished from The Complete Book of Light Opera. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1962, pp. 753–56, accessed December 3, 2008
- Rodgers and Hart Biography Guide to Musical Theatre, accessed April 5, 2009
- “Show Boat”, theatrehistory.com, excerpted from The Complete Book of Light Opera. Lubbock, Mark. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1962. pp. 807–08.
- Wilson, Jeremy. “All the Things You Are (1939)”. jazzstandards.com, accessed March 15, 2010
- Layne, Joslyn. Lorenz Hart Biography at Allmusic, accessed September 23, 2009
- Oklahoma! (MCA/Capitol) at AllMusic
- The film was shot in two versions, the Todd-AO one, distributed by Mike Todd‘s Magna productions, and a Cinemascope version for theatres that were not, at that time, able to handle Todd-AO. The Cinemascope version was released by RKO a year after the Todd-AO version and is the one that most audiences have seen.
- Hyland, William G. Richard Rodgers. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1998, p. 158. ISBN 978-0-300-07115-3
- “Richard Rodgers Conducts Richard Rodgers, Columbia Odyssey, ASIN B000WZKCLA amazon.com, accessed December 20, 2012
- “Dorothy Manners” Toledo Blade, June 5, 1969
- Gans, Andrew. “Lost Cinderella Footage On View at NYC’s Museum of TV & Radio”, Playbill.com, June 20, 2002, accessed December 22, 2012
- Julie Andrews: Awards & Nominees, Emmys.com, accessed December 22, 2012
- The Nielsen TV rating for the program was 18,864,000 “homes reached during an average minute” of the broadcast. “Ratings“, Broadcasting-Telecasting, 6 May 1957, p. 51
- Hischak, Thomas. The Rodgers and Hammerstein Encyclopedia (2007), p. 170. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 0-313-34140-0
- “Oscar Hammerstein II”, rnh.com, Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization, accessed October 28, 2014
- Hammerstein biography on PBS, pbs.org, accessed November 29, 2008
- Everett, William A.; Laird, Paul (2002), The Cambridge Companion to the Musical, Cambridge University Press, p. 124, ISBN 0-521-79639-3
- Miller, Matthew (October 27, 2009). “Top-Earning Dead Celebrities”. Forbes.com.
- “Proms 2010: Prom 49: A celebration of Rodgers and Hammerstein, review”. The Telegraph. October 27, 2016.
- Main Street to Broadway overview
- Hischak, Thomas. The Rodgers and Hammerstein Encyclopedia (2007), p. 54, Greenwood Publishing Group ISBN 0-313-34140-0
- Rousuck, J. Wynn. “Rodgers and Hammerstein remembered for their art and their emotional impact: The Sound of Their Music”, Baltimore Sun, December 18, 1994, accessed August 15, 2015
- Billington, Michael. [url=https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2012/aug/21/carousel-musical-review “Carousel – review”], The Guardian, August 21, 2012, accessed August 5, 2015
- Rockwell, John. “Music: A new South Pacific by the City Opera”, The New York Times, March 2, 1987, accessed June 5, 2013
- Gearin, Joan (Winter 2005). “Movie vs. Reality:The Real Story of the von Trapp Family”. Prologue. National Archives and Records Administration. 37 (4). Retrieved April 2, 2008.
- Nolan, Frederick (2002). The Sound of Their Music: The Story of Rodgers and Hammerstein. New York: Applause Books. ISBN 1-55783-473-3.
- Rodgers and Hammerstein
- Rodgers and Hammerstein Discography at Discogs
- Rodgers and Hammerstein Time magazine’s “100 most influential artists”
- Rodgers and Hammerstein Columbia University Encyclopedia
- Theodore S. Chapin, of the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization, discusses their copyright license philosophy at Jacob’s Pillow PillowTalk, August 29, 2009