RICHARD RODGERS (1902-1979)
A native New Yorker, Richard Rodgers was already composing in his early teens. He first made his mark as a Columbia University undergraduate, writing music for the prestigious varsity shows. His writing partner was a Columbia alumnus, Lorenz Hart, with whom he forged an extraordinary partnership of more than two decades.
There were 24 Rodgers and Hart musicals, from Poor Little Ritz Girl (1920) to By Jupiter (1942). The two had numerous collaborators over the years, since they did not always feel inclined to write a show's book themselves. Most of the dramatic content of their early productions was inconsequential, with only one or two songs per show standing the test of time. Those songs did become American standards, whether "Blue Room" (The Girl Friend), "Thou Swell" (A Connecticut Yankee), or "You Took Advantage of Me" (Present Arms).
The duo wrote for Hollywood films from 1931 to 1934. Upon returning to New York, they had a hit with Jumbo, but more important steps forward occurred with two other shows, each based on strong source material: The Boys from Syracuse, based on Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors; and Pal Joey, which John O'Hara adapted from stories he had written for The New Yorker. Boys expertly blended romance with side-splitting humor, while Pal Joey excited controversy by building a show around a volatile affair between two not especially admirable people: a night-club dancer on the make and the wealthy married woman who is "keeping" him. Both shows, as well as By Jupiter (based on the Greek myth of the Amazon queen Hippolyta), boasted a brilliant score.
Hart gave Rodgers his blessing to work with another lyricist, Oscar Hammerstein II, on what was to become Oklahoma! After Hart's death and the show's successful opening (1942), Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote eight more Broadway musicals, plus Cinderella for television and State Fair for the movies. The Broadway shows enabled Rodgers to use his musical imagination to enliven a wide variety of locales: 19th-century New England: (Carousel); small-town contemporary America (Allegro); South Sea islands during World War II (South Pacific); Siam during the 1860s (The King and I); backstage at a theater presenting a musical (Me and Juliet); the seedy side of Monterrey, California (Pipe Dream); San Francisco's vibrant Chinatown (Flower Drum Song); and finally, Austria at the dawn of World War II (The Sound of Music).
Immediately post-King and I, Rodgers composed the score of a television film, Victory at Sea. He returned to television twice: shortly after Hammerstein's death in 1960, for another film, The Valiant Years, about Winston Churchill; and for a musical based on George Bernard Shaw's play, Androcles and the Lion. Androcles boasted Rodgers's music and lyrics. So did No Strings on Broadway, ahead of its time (1962) in its sensitive handling of an interracial love story. Rodgers worked with several different collaborators during the rest of his Broadway career. The shows included Do I Hear a Waltz, Two by Two, Rex, and finally, seven months before his death, I Remember Mama.
OSCAR HAMMERSTEIN II (1895-1960)
Oscar Hammerstein II, a New Yorker, was born into a family well acquainted with theatrical life. His grandfather built and managed opera houses and theaters, his uncle was a producer on Broadway, and his father ran a well-known vaudeville house. Unlike Richard Rodgers, who left Columbia University to study at the Institute of Musical Art (now Juilliard), Hammerstein remained, graduating with a law degree. He cared more, however, about acting and writing for Columbia's varsity shows! Rodgers, seven years his junior, was a freshman when the two collaborated for the first time: Hammerstein wrote lyrics to Rodgers's music for a varsity-show song, "There's Always Room for One More."
Hammerstein collaborated again with Kern for Sweet Adeline (1929), Music in the Air (1932), and Very Warm for May (1939), and with Romberg for May Wine (1935). During the mid-1930s, he worked on several Hollywood films. In conjunction with the New York World's Fair he wrote book and lyrics for American Jubilee with composer Arthur Schwartz. After the failure of his last Romberg show, Sunny River (1941), he was more than ready to tackle a more invigorating project – enter Rodgers and Oklahoma!
The Rodgers/Hammerstein partnership would encompass nine exceptionally varied Broadway shows. Having begun with Oklahoma! (1943), the collaboration ended only with Hammerstein's death, nine months after the successful opening of The Sound of Music. In between came hits -- Carousel, South Pacific, The King and I, Flower Drum Song – and three shows that failed to meet audiences' and critics' exalted expectations for R&H: Allegro, Me and Juliet, and Pipe Dream. The duo created two other musicals: State Fair (1945) for film and Cinderella (1957) for television. Countless R&H songs figure prominently in the American musical-theater heritage; anyone with a passing interest in Broadway can recite a Hammerstein lyric, whether poetic ballads like "If I Love You" and "Some Enchanted Evening," or livelier numbers like "June is Bustin' Out All Over" and "Do-Re-Mi."
Hammerstein transplanted Bizet's Carmen to World War II with an all-African-American cast for a successful Broadway version, Carmen Jones (1943). He collaborated with Rodgers and other colleagues in co-producing South Pacific and the R&H shows that followed it, and he and Rodgers co-produced Irving Berlin's greatest Broadway triumph, Annie Get Your Gun, in 1946.
National Endowment for the Arts · an independent federal