The songs of Rodgers and Hammerstein

Richard and Oscar

2023 is the 80th anniversary of the first musical of Rodgers and Hammerstein to reach Broadway. The original Broadway production of Oklahoma! opened on March 31, 1943.

I was reminded of this fact by Dave Kibbe, when he did a presentation of From Oklahoma to the Austrian Alps: The Music of Rodgers and Hammerstein at the Albany Public Library on June 20.

Kibbe briefly touched on the music of Jerome Kern and Hammerstein, most notably Showboat (1927) and Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. The latter collaboration generated several shows, most of which I never hear of, save for Pal Joey. But I initially heard many of the songs of the duo because of the album The Supremes Sing Rodgers & Hart, which I still own on vinyl.

Oklahoma! (1943)

I first saw the 1955 film starring Gordon MacRae (husband of Sheila, father of Meredith) and Shirley Jones (mother of Shaun Cassidy, stepmom of David Cassidy) probably in the 1980s. Subsequently, I’ve watched a stage version.

Oh, What A Beautiful Mornin’ – Gordon MacRae. I thought this could have been anywhere in the Midwest; corn that tall was probably in Nebraska or Iowa. But whatever. 

Kansas City – My wife and I have often cited the chorus. “They’ve gone as fur as they can go.” (I’m also inclined to say about some minor flaw, “It’s a scandal! It’s a outrage.”)


Redux cast

Carousel (1945)

My mother had the soundtrack of the 1956 movie, again starring MacRae and Jones, which I have never seen, but I so remember the album cover. Only in the past decade have I watched a stage presentation.

If I Loved You– Robert Goulet. Kibbe pointed out that Hammerstein often used the indirect approach to love, going back to his period with Kern. It occurred to me that the Beatles also used this device (If I Fell, If I Needed Someone).  

Soliloquy– Frank Sinatra. This is the first version I ever heard.

You’ll Never Walk Alone. I heard this covered a lot on variety shows.- 

State Fair (1945 film)

This was a remake of a 1933 non-musical film. The musical was remade in 1962, and not well-received. I saw that version in the cinema around that time. The show finally reached Broadway in 1996.

Our State Fair, which I remember from the ’62 film

It Might As Well Be Spring– Julie Andrews. Kibbe used this, even as he mused why it appears on Andrews’ “Greatest Christmas Songs.”

Allegro (1947)

I’m not familiar with this.

Based on the book by Michener

South Pacific (1949)

I saw the 1958 movie version likely in the 1970s. In 2010, it was performed at Proctors Theatre in Schenectady; we were way up in the balcony, suboptimal for my enjoyment; here’s a newspaper review.

Some Enchanted Evening– Brian Stokes Mitchell (2013). IDK who Sam and Janet Evening are.

I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out Of My Hair– Kelli O’Hara (2008 New Broadway Cast Recording). Used in a series of Clairol commercials as  “Wash That Gray Right Outta of My Hair”

You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught – James Taylor (2020). I always thought some of the versions of this song were too damn cheerful. 

The King and I (1951)

As is often the case, I saw the movie, which came out in 1956, at some undetermined time as an adult. The musical I saw at Proctors in May 2018, and I remember liking it very much. Here’s a  review.

Me and Juliet (1953)

I don’t know this show.

No Other Love – Perry Como, a #1 song the year I was born

Pipe Dream (1955)

Another show I don’t know.

Fairy tale

Cinderella (1957 television)

My introduction to this story was the 1965 TV version starring Lesley Ann Warren, which I loved, though Kibbe wasn’t a fan.

It wasn’t until far later that I even knew that there was an earlier iteration, this one starring  Julie Andrews. Given the vagueries of counting television viewers in those days, it MAY have had more viewers than the final episode of MASH. We have since gotten it on DVD.

I also watched the 1997 TV version starring Brandy. The show finally made it to Broadway in 2013.

The Prince Is Giving A Ball – Robert Penn and ensemble (1957)

In My Own Little Corner -Lesley Ann Warren

Impossible/It’s Possible – Whitney Houston and Brandy

Flower Drum Song (1958)

I’d heard the title, but I’ve never seen the musical or the 1961 film.

Sound of Music (1959)

My mother owned the soundtrack to the 1965 movie, which I loved. Yet I never saw the film until the 2010s with my wife and daughter.

Morning Hymn/Alleluia – the nuns. I LOVE Morning Hymn

The Sound of Music – Julie Andrews. What an opening shot!

Climb Every Mountain – Audra McDonald at the Kennedy Center n January 2019. She performed it during the 2013 live television event.

Edelweiss (reprise)- Christopher  Plummer, Julie Andrews, et al. “The great popularity of the song has led many of its audience to believe that it is an Austrian folk song… This was the final song of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical collaboration as well as the last song written by Oscar Hammerstein II, who died in August 1960.”VERY affecting.

Nobody claim 2022 as “your year”

please don’t suck

2022 asA friend of mine posted this graphic on their Facebook feed. Nobody claim 2022 as “your year”. And I get it.

I got to sing in my church’s Christmas Eve service for the first time in two years, which was great. Now, I felt rusty but that was OK. In 2020, the church had audio and video of the choir’s prior performances shown on the Facebook feed. Listening to the sounds of our voices was OK; I’d been doing so almost every week for months of the regular service. but watching the film of me, and others, singing made me EXTREMELY melancholy.

The Boston Globe readers commented on the past year. The intro: “If 2020 felt like a year like no other, then 2021 felt like more of the same. One step forward and two steps back, or vice versa? It depended on the day. We saw vaccines rolled out, then resisted. Bitter partisanship kept its grip on our politics.”

I love the word hegemony

If I read this article, The Respite Is Coming to an End. “All around us we can see the forces of white nationalist authoritarianism engaged in a second, far more methodical, far better coordinated, and already more successful attempt to do what they failed to do on January 6, 2021. If matters continue on this path, the Biden administration will prove only a brief respite before those forces snuff out the grand American experiment and secure a permanent, counter-majoritarian chokehold on the erstwhile republic.” And it’s a compelling argument.

And Foreign Affairs had a piece, The Real Crisis of Global Order. Illiberalism on the Rise. It addresses, among other things, the collapse of US hegemony, which Trump’s election helped to create and Biden’s election almost certainly can’t fix. For instance, as the Daily Show illustrated, Why China Is in Africa.

Rodgers and Hammerstein

I’m already exhausted from 2022, like Sinatra or Gordon MacRae singing Soliloquy from Carousel, musing what “my boy Bill” will be like. “Say, why am I carrying on like this? My kid ain’t even been born yet.” And neither has 2022. Well, maybe in New Zealand.

Perhaps I need more humour and a stiff upper lip, like Queen Elizabeth who lost her husband, Prince Philip, in 2021, who she’d only been married to since 1947, before I was born.

So I’m going to decide that 2022 will be great! Of course, I will also retreat to the ‘trust but verify” position about the new year, which is a quote Ronald Reagan cleverly pilfered.

Composer Stephen Sondheim

colonel,and journal

Stephen SondheimAs much as I loved Stephen Sondheim as the composer of some of my favorite songs, I was even more taken by him as a teacher and raconteur.

He came to that first profession because he was fortunate to have as a neighbor Oscar Hammerstein II, as in Rodgers and. Here’s a story I’ve heard him tell. “In 1945, Sondheim presented his first musical, By George, to Hammerstein, who told him: ‘It’s the worst thing I’ve ever read. It was terrible, and if you want to know why it’s terrible, I’ll tell you.’

“Hammerstein taught him how to construct a musical. ‘I dare say, at the risk of hyperbole, that I learned more that afternoon than most people learn about songwriting in a lifetime.” 

Has anyone so talented been so hard on himself? His books Finishing The Hat (2010) and Look, I Made A Hat (2011) collect lyrics with Attendant Comments, Anecdotes, et al. They are very entertaining additions to my book collection. In fact, they reside perhaps a meter away from where I sit in the office. The former was my favorite book that year.

A massive body of work

wrote how Leonard Bernstein,  another of his teachers, kept him from using the obvious profanity at the end of Gee, Officer Krupke. Of course, as I’ve noted repeatedly, West Side Story is my favorite musical. Its creation and evolution from the stage to the movie have long fascinated me.

“The first show for which Sondheim wrote both the music and lyrics was A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.” Comedy Night is a grand opening piece. I recall that from seeing a production of it back in the early 1970s. At some point years ago, I’ve actually sung the title tune from Anyone Can Whistle. My daughter was in a variation of his Assassins, which is difficult music indeed. I’ve seen the movie Into The Woods.

And I haven’t even mentioned Gypsy or Company or Follies or A Little Night Music. He received a Pulitzer Prize in 1985 for Sunday in the Park with George. As the Boston Globe asked, “Who else would write a musical about a vengeful barber whose victims are turned into meat pies (‘Sweeney Todd’)?”

Ken Levine notes an even earlier credit, on a television show. 

Words that rhyme

Here’s something I find intriguing. He believed “words that are spelled differently, but sound alike, such as rougher and suffer, engage the listener more than those spelled similarly, rougher and tougher… ‘I have got a rhyme in ‘Passion,’ colonel, and journal. Now, you look at them on paper, they seem to have no relation to each other at all. So, when you rhyme them, it’s, ooh, you know?'” I believe he is correct.

Mark Evanier has linked to Sondheim-related material dozens of times. As he noted: “If you have ever wanted to write songs or plays — or really anything — you will enjoy this conversation between Adam Guettel and Stephen Sondheim. It’s just two guys who write great stuff for the Broadway stage sitting around and yakking…”

Evanier also posted Send In The Clowns, sung by Bernadette Peters, generally considered the greatest interpreter of Sondheim’s work, with the composer on the piano.  And Everybody Wants To Be Sondheim, a “song written by — and performed here by — Alan Chapman.” In fact, just go to Mark’s site and search Stephen’s name.

Stephen Sondheim received nine Tony Awards, an Oscar, eight Grammys, the Laurence Olivier Award, the Kennedy Center Honors (1993), and the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2015). He was 91.

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