Profile of a Composer: Rodgers & Hammerstein

Rodgers and Hammerstein gave us many wonderful songs including, “Shall We Dance,” “Some Enchanted Evening,” “Oh, What A Beautiful

Rodgers and Hammerstein
Rodgers and Hammerstein

Morning,” and “Younger Than Springtime.”  They also wrote the songs to The Sound of Music, including My Favorite Things and Edelweiss.

The team of Rodgers and Hammerstein consist of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, both of whom had success collaborating with others before they teamed together.

Both Rodgers and Hammerstein {R&H} were interested in Lynn Riggs’ stage play, Green Grow the Lilacs.  When their previous partners declined to work on the project, the famous collaboration began.   This resulted in the first hit for R&H, Oklahoma!

OklahomaOklahoma! revolutionized the musical drama and introduced new storytelling elements and techniques.  The most important of these is the use of song and dance to convey the plot and characters.  Oklahoma! became a milestone and brought new life to musical theater.

Oklahoma! opened on March 31, 1943, without the traditional star power associated with musicals.  R&H deemed the “story and songs were considered more important than sheer star power.”

After a short break for Hammerstein to work on Carmen Jones, R&H regrouped and produced Carousel in 1945.  This was one of the first musicals to portray a tragic plot for the hero.  You’ll Never Walk Alone is from this musical.

That year also saw the screen adaptation of State Fair and won the duo their only Oscar for the song, “It Might as Well Be Spring.”

More Broadway hits would follow with South Pacific opening in 1949 and The King & I in 1951.

In 1955, Oklahoma! was filmed for the screen starring Gordon McRae and Shirley Jones {both of whom were also the leads in the film version of Carousel}.  Film versions of their other hit Broadway show quickly followed over the next decade.

Julie Andrews as Cinderella
Julie Andrews as Cinderella

Their only TV collaboration was the story of Cinderella, which aired on March 31, 1957, and featured a then relatively unknown Julie Andrews.  Andrews would win an Emmy Award for her performance in Cinderella.

While R&H are known for their successes, they also had some works that are not as well known or regarded.  The include Allegro {1947}, Me and Juliet {1953}, Pipe Dream {1955}, and Flower Drum Song {1958—a moderate success}.

The Sound of Music was their last collaboration and opened on Broadway on November 16, 1959.  The film version was released in 1965, after the death of Oscar Hammerstein II.  This is the musical R&H are best known for.

The Sound of Music
The Sound of Music

R&H are considered masters of the musical theater and completely revolutionized the genre.  The duo integrated all aspects into whole performance {dance, drama, play and song}.

R&H earned numerous awards including 35 Tony Awards, 15 Academy Awards, 2 Pulitzer Prizes, 2 Grammy Awards, 2 Emmy Awards, 1999 U.S. Postage Stamp and they were cited by Time Magazine and CBS News as “among the 20 most influential artists of the 20th century.”

After Oscar Hammerstein’s death in 1960, Richard Rodgers continued to write for Broadway.

R&H are still highly regarded and deeply esteemed.  Their works are still staples in the world of musical theatre and for productions from local schools and Community Theater all the way to revivals on Broadway.

Their legacy will continue to live long after them.

What is your favorite R&H musical?  What is your favorite R&H song?