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Richard Rodgers (1902 – 1979) and Oscar Hammerstein II (1895 – 1960) were a well-known Americanmarker songwriting duo, usually referred to as Rodgers and Hammerstein. They created a string of popular Broadwaymarker musicals in the 1940s and 1950s during what is considered the golden age of the medium. With Rodgers composing the music and Hammerstein adding the lyrics, five of their shows, Oklahoma!, Carousel, South Pacific, The King and I, and The Sound of Music, were outstanding successes. In all, among the many accolades that their shows (and their film versions) garnered were thirty-four Tony Awards, fifteen Academy Awards, the Pulitzer Prize, and two Grammys.

Previous work and partnerships

Prior to their partnership, both Rodgers and Hammerstein had enjoyed 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.

Early work: Oklahoma! Carousel and State Fair


Independently of each other, Rodgers and Hammerstein had been attracted to making a musical based on Lynn Riggs' stage play Green Grow the Lilacs. When Jerome Kern declined Hammerstein's offer to work on such a project and Hart refused Rodgers' offer to do the same, Rodgers and Hammerstein began their first collaboration. The result, Oklahoma! (1943), marked a revolution in musical drama. Although not the first musical to tell a story of emotional depth and psychological complexity, Oklahoma! introduced a number of new storytelling elements and techniques. These included its use of song and dance to convey plot and character rather than act as a diversion from the story and the firm integration of every song into the plot-line.

Oklahoma! was originally called Away We Go! and opened at the Shubert Theatre in New Havenmarker 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 "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. 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, and 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 movie starred Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones, and the film's soundtrack was #1 on the 1956 album charts. The film was literally shot in two versions, the Todd-AO one, distributed by Mike Todd's Magna productions and RKO, and a Cinemascope one for theatres not able to handle Todd-AO, which at that time used a curved screen reminiscent of Cinerama, as well as six track stereophonic sound. The Cinemascope version, which made use of the standard rectangular Cinemascope screen and four-track stereo, was released by Twentieth Century-Fox a year after the Todd-AO version, and is the one that most audiences have seen. In later years, it became possible to show a Todd-AO film on a Cinemascope screen without having to actually shoot two versions in two different formats.

After their initial success with Oklahoma!, the pair took a break from working together and Hammerstein concentrated on the musical Carmen Jones, a Broadwaymarker 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.


The original production of Carousel was directed by Rouben Mamoulian and opened at Broadwaymarker's Majestic Theatremarker on April 19, 1945, running for 890 performances and closing on May 24, 1947. The cast included John Raitt, Jan Clayton, Jean Darling, Eric Mattson, Christine Johnson, Murvyn Vye, Bambi Linn, and Russell Collins. From this show came the hit musical numbers The Carousel Waltz (an instrumental), If I Loved You, June Is Bustin' Out All Over, and You'll Never Walk Alone.

Carousel was also revolutionary for its time — adapted from Ferenc Molnar's play Liliom, it was one of the first musicals to contain a tragic plot. The 1956 film version of Carousel, made in Cinemascope 55, starred the same two actors who had starred in the movie of Oklahoma!Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones.

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.

State Fair

In 1945, a Technicolor musical film version of Phil Stong's novel State Fair, with songs and script by Rodgers and Hammerstein, was released. The film, a remake of a 1933 non-musical Will Rogers movie of the same name, starred Jeanne Crain, Dana Andrews, Dick Haymes, and Vivian Blaine. This was the only time the pair ever wrote a score directly for film. It was a great success, winning Rodgers and Hammerstein their lone Oscar, for the song It Might as Well Be Spring, but it was also non-adventurous material for them compared to several of their Broadway shows.

In 1962, an unsuccessful remake of the musical film was released. In 1969, the St. Louis Municipal Opera presented the world stage premiere of "State Fair." Starring Ozzie and Harriet Nelson, the film 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 other important works

South Pacific

South Pacific opened on Broadway on April 7, 1949, and ran for over five years. Its songs Bali Ha'i, Younger than Springtime, and Some Enchanted Evening have become standards. The play is based upon two short stories by James A. Michener from his book Tales of the South Pacific, which itself was the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1948. For their adaptation, Rodgers and Hammerstein, along with co-writer Joshua Logan, won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1950.

The original cast starred Mary Martin as the heroine Nellie Forbush and opera star Ezio Pinza as Emile de Becque, the French plantation owner. Also in the cast were Juanita Hall, Myron McCormick, Betta St. John, and William Tabbert. 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

Based on Margaret Landon's Anna and the King of Siam—the story of Anna Leonowens, governess to the children of King Mongkut of Siammarker in the early 1860s—Rodgers and Hammerstein's musical The King and I opened on Broadwaymarker on March 29, 1951, starring Gertrude Lawrence as Anna, and a mostly unknown Yul Brynner as the king. This musical featured the hit songs I Whistle a Happy Tune; Hello, Young Lovers; Getting to Know You; We Kiss in a Shadow; Something Wonderful; I Have Dreamed; and Shall We Dance?.

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.


Based on the fairytale character and story of Cinderella, Rodgers and Hammerstein worked together to create their first collaborative effort written for television. Cinderella aired on March 31, 1957 on CBS and was seen by over 100 million people. Rodgers and Hammerstein originally signed to work with NBC, but CBS approached them, offering the chance to work with Julie Andrews, and the two quickly agreed. Rodgers stated, "What won us over was the chance to work with Julie." The film starred Julie Andrews as Cinderella, Edith Adams as the Fairy Godmother, Kaye Ballard and Alice Ghostley as Joy and Portia, and Jon Cypher as Prince Christopher. It was broadcast in black and white, and featured songs still treasured today, "My Own Little Corner," and "Impossible: It's Possible." After the success of the 1957 production, another version was presented in 1965 on CBS, and yet another in 1997 on ABC, starring Brandy, Whitney Houston, and Whoopi Goldberg. The 1965 version was recorded on videotape, the 1997 one on film.

Flower Drum Song

Based on a 1957 novel by C. Y. Lee, Flower Drum Song takes place in San Francisco's Chinatownmarker's in the late 1950s. The original 1958 production was directed by dancer/singer/actor Gene Kelly. The story deals with a young Chinese woman who illegally comes to America in hopes of marrying a wealthy young Chinese-American man, who is already in love with a Chinatown nightclub dancer. The young man's parents are traditional Chinese and want him to marry the Chinese woman, but he is hesitant until he falls in love with her. Though this musical did not achieve the popularity of the team's five most famous musicals, it was nevertheless a success, and broke new ground by using a mostly Asian cast. The 1961 film adaptation was a lavish Ross Hunter production released by Universal Studios. A Broadway revival in 2002 starring Lea Salonga was well-received.

The Sound of Music

The Sound of Music, Rodgers and Hammerstein's last work together, told the story of the von Trapp family. Starring Mary Martin as Maria and Theodore Bikel as Captain von Trapp, it opened on Broadway at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre on November 16, 1959, garnering much praise and numerous awards. It has been frequently revived ever since. The show was made into a film in 1965 starring Julie Andrews as Maria and Christopher Plummer as the Captain. It won five Oscars, including best picture and best director, Robert Wise. Hammerstein died in August 1960, before the film was made. So when Rodgers wrote two extra songs for the film, he wrote the lyrics as well. The Sound of Music probably contains more hit songs than any other Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, likely due to the phenomenal success of the film version. It was the most financially successful film adaptation of a Broadway musical ever made. It also contained many memorable songs, including the title song, "Do-Re-Mi," "My Favorite Things," "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" "So Long, Farewell," "Sixteen Going on Seventeen," and "Edelweiss."


Rodgers and Hammerstein completely re-worked the musical theatre genre. Before then, musicals were usually whimsical or farcical, and usually built around a star. Because the efforts of Rodgers and Hammerstein were so successful, more musicals contained thought-provoking plots, and every aspect of the play, dance, song, and drama was important to the plot.

Rodgers and Hammerstein also use the technique of what some call the formula musical. While some hail this phenomenon, others criticize it for its predictability. The term formula musical may refer to a musical with a very 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 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, one should not credit Rodgers and Hammerstein with coming up with this formula. It has been used over and over in Viennese operetta as well as in American operetta. The Student Prince, The Desert Song, The Vagabond King and Rose-Marie all used similar formulas, except that in their cases, the tenor had the lead and the baritone was the supporting role, as in opera. In the musical play Show Boat, by Hammerstein and Jerome Kern, Gaylord Ravenal is the tenor lead, Magnolia the soprano, Julie LaVerne the alto (although she is sometimes sung by a soprano), and Joe, the African-American dock worker who sings Ol' Man River, is a bass-baritone.

William A. Everett and Paul R. Laird wrote that Oklahoma! was a "show, that, 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." In addition to their enduring work, Rodgers and Hammerstein were also honored in 1999 with a United States Postal Service stamp commemorating their partnership.

The Richard Rodgers Theatremarker in New York Citymarker is named after Rodgers.

Rodgers and Hammerstein on television

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.

Social issues

While Rodgers and Hammerstein's work contains cheerful and oftentimes 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 racist views by westerners of Pacific islanders, and racism generally. Based on the true story of the von Trapp family, The Sound of Music explores the views of Austrians to the takeover of Austriamarker by the Third Reich.

Rodgers and Hammerstein Properties today

Corporate components to many of the Rodgers and Hammerstein film adaptations are now owned by different companies. 20th Century Fox owns the film versions of Carousel, The King and I, The Sound of Music, and both versions of State Fair outright, while holding partial ancillary rights (including home video) to South Pacific and Oklahoma!. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (via their acquisition of the holdings of The Samuel Goldwyn Company) owns the theatrical and television rights to Oklahoma!, South Pacific, and Flower Drum Song (Universal Pictures, the film's original distributor, owns only the video rights and the film's copyright), while owning full rights to the 1965 television version of Cinderella.

List of shows

See also


  1. Rodgers and Hammerstein began writing together before the era of the Tonys—Oklahoma! opened in 1943 and Carousel in 1945, and the Tonys were not awarded until 1947.
  2. Rodgers and Hart BiographyGuide to Musical Theatre, accessed April 5, 2009
  3. "Show Boat",, excerpted from The Complete Book of Light Opera. Lubbock, Mark. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1962. pp. 807-08.
  4. Layne, Joslyn. Lorenz Hart Biography at Allmusic, accessed September 23, 2009
  5. Everett, William A.; Laird, Paul (2002), The Cambridge Companion to the Musical, Cambridge University Press, p. 124, ISBN 0521796393
  6. "American Musical Theatre: An Introduction",, republished from The Complete Book of Light Opera. Mark Lubbock. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1962. pp. 753-56, accessed December 3, 2008


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