The Many Magical Musicals of Rodgers and Hammerstein

by peter_komposch

Rodgers and Hammerstein are two of musical theater’s best collaborators. The Sound of Music is the best known of their productions.

Mention the names Rodgers and Hammerstein and almost everyone knows a bit about them. Rodgers and Hammerstein are two of musical theater’s best collaborators. Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II are best known for the musicals, The Sound of Music, Oklahoma!, South Pacific, The King and I, and Carousel.

Rodgers first partnered with Lorenz Hart. The partnership was a successful one, and they produced a number of Broadway works. Chief among these were Babes in Arms and A Connecticut Yankee. Hammerstein was also building a successful career on Broadway working with a number of composers. He collaborated with Jerome Kern to produce the well-known musical, Show Boat, in 1927.

The genesis of their first work together, Oklahoma!, resulted from both their writer partners turning them down on the same issue. They both wanted to turn the play Green Grow the Lilacs by Lynn Riggs into a musical. Therefore, Rodgers and Hammerstein collaborated to produce the hit Oklahoma! in 1943. The pair started a whole new tradition in musical theatre with some of the changes they implemented in the musical. For one, prior to Oklahoma!, musicals had little or no plots and the songs didn’t tell a story. The show was so popular it broke records nearly every time it was performed. It was performed 2, 248 times. In 1944, the musical won a Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

The songs that were performed in many of the duo’s musicals have lived on over the years. Timeless classics like “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’,” “People Will Say We are In Love,” and the title song, “Oklahoma!” are still popular today.

Another of their award winning productions was South Pacific. This work, which addressed the dual issues of race and war, also won a Pulitzer Prize. Songs from South Pacific are also known internationally. Some of the better known ones are “Bali Ha’i,” “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair” and “Some Enchanted Evening.”

The Sound of Music is the best known of their productions. In 1959, it won a Tony award for best musical. Although many of their musicals were happy and cheerful, the duo also used their work to make social commentaries. The highly successful musical The King and I addressed the subjugation of women at the time. Based on the true story of an English woman, Anna Leonowens, The King and I addressed the cultural differences between countries as well. One of the most popular songs from this musical is “Getting To Know You.”

The last collaboration by Rodgers and Hammerstein was the Sound of Music, featuring Julie Andrews. This opened in 1959, just prior to the death of Hammerstein from cancer in August 1960. The musical, like The King and I, was based on a true story. It was about the life of a nun who lived in Austria during Nazi occupation.

Many of their musicals have been produced for television or film. Two of these were Cinderella and State Fair. Cinderella has so far had three incarnations on television, the latest being in 1997.

The music and musicals from Rodgers and Hammerstein have set the stage for future generations to come. Over 40 years later, their music still stirs the hearts of listeners and captivates audiences. Rodgers was the composer behind the music, and Hammerstein wrote lyrics for their productions.

The number of awards and accolades they earned together is a testament to their brilliance. They received 34 Tony awards, 15 Academy awards and two Grammy awards. Richard Rodgers died in 1979, but their songs will live on forever.

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