Shall We Dance to Rodgers and Hammerstein?

5/13/2015 09:14:00 PM

Since I'm talking about musical theatre which is one of the things that I'm really addicted to, I'll put this post into the 'I'm Addicted' series (here's part one, and part two). This is not going to be a list of musicals that I reaaaaallly love, this time I'm going write about my favorite musical theatre duo instead, Rodgers and Hammerstein.

Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II were a successful American musical theatre writing team, often called as Rodgers and Hammerstein. They created musicals together in the 1940s and 1950s, and they were as innovative as something that could initiate the golden age of musical theatre. Not only most of their musicals were a huge success (there were some flops too), their partnership also has been called the greatest of the 20th century.

I'd be lying if I said I love all of their musicals in the first time I listened to it. It wasn't like love at first listen for some musicals. I'm a bit unfamiliar at first with the genre of classic musical theatre, with all excessive vibrato and stuff. Maybe because at that time I watched more of the pop or rock-oriented musical. However, as I'm starting my interest in the golden era of Hollywood, then the musical, suddenly I became familiar with the genre and hyped of it. Now I'm a shameless Rodgers & Hammerstein fan, probably like your grandma or grandpa.

While reading this post, you can listen to my 8track playlist, 'Shall We Dance to Rodgers and Hammerstein' to get know the type of their musical more. I handpicked 25 beautiful numbers from all of their musicals and compiled it according to the tunes and story.

Shall We Dance to Rodgers & Hammerstein? from thetreasures on 8tracks Radio.

Here is the list of their musicals followed by my little review (year by year).

1. Oklahoma! (1943)
It tells the story about the romance between a cowboy, Curly McLain, and a farm girl, Laurey Williams. It's based on Lynn Riggs' 1931 play, Green Grow the Lilacs. I love the score, it's like the mixture of country, ballad and classical, that matched with its set in the small country, Oklahoma Territory outside the town of Claremore. Though I must admit the storyline is too simple for me at first but knowing this is their first work as a team, it's a very good start.

2. Carousel (1945)
Carousel is adapted from Ferenc Molnár's 1909 play Liliom, with different settings, the play is in Budapest and the musical is in Maine. From this musical, I acknowledged there was such thing as 'barker' in the Carousel attraction, and it played as the main plot here. The story revolves around the relationship of a carousel barker, Billy Bigelow and a millworker, Julie Jordan that comes at the price of both their jobs. Billy Bigelow then struggles to provide a life for his family after he married Julie, and when it goes wrong, he is given a chance to make things right. The story is more tragic than the previous musical. It also has a rich plot and connection with every era. I love the numbers and ballet scenes in this musical, not only they drive the plot, they also reflect it. Again, it's a great follow-up in their list of works together.

3. State Fair (1945)
It's the first and only musical written directly for film by Rodgers and Hammerstein. State Fair is a musical adaptation of a film with the same title in 1933. Years later, this was made for a Broadway musical in 1996. The story set during the annual Iowa State Fair. It concentrates on the Frakes family: father Charles Winninger, mother Fay Bainter, and grown-up children Jeanne Crain and Dick Haymes. Each has his or her own reason for attending the fair, and we'll see how their motives are played in the fair. The musical numbers are wonderful as always, but I'm a bit disappointed with Walter Lang's direction.

4. Allegro (1947)
This is the first musical that was called a flop. Flop in theatre means a play or musical that fails to run. Even the most legendary playwrights have suffered humiliating disasters of this kind because yep, everything has its up and down. The musical is about Joseph Taylor, Jr.--a doctor's son who follows his father's work but is tempted by fortune and fame at a big-city hospital. Then they created the musical with a different format from their previous works, it was a play with two men as the central characters rather than the usual "boy and girl" format. The musical got mixed reviews after the opening night, but mostly negative ones. Frederick Nolan then stated in his book that Allegro's main fault is the format was ahead of its time, the integration of story and music far too advanced even for audiences who were used to see musicals which actually had stories.

5. South Pacific (1949)
The failure of their previous musical, Allegro, made Rodgers and Hammerstein's more determined to have another hit. And they succeeded, indeed. South Pacific won ten Tony Awards including best musical. It is based on James A. Michener's Pulitzer Prize-winning 1947 book Tales of the South Pacific. This was made into a movie in 1958 directed by Joshua Logan. The musical sets during World War II and revolves around an American nurse stationed in South Pacific who falls in love with a French plantation owner but struggles to accept his mixed-race children. The second romance plot is a lieutenant and a young Tonkinese woman, but he is afraid of social consequences if he marries her. This musical has a strong message on racism, making the musical is considered a classic. Its confrontation of racism with lovable musical numbers also surprised me when I watched the musical, it was such a brave step taken by Rodgers and Hammerstein.

6. The King and I (1951)
The King and I is based on Margaret Landon's novel, Anna and the King of Siam, which is derived from Anna Leonowens' memoir about being a governess to the children of King Mongkut of Siam in the early 1860s. The story revolves around Anna, a British schoolteacher, who is hired to teach the children of King Mongkut as a part of his mission to modernize Siam. The relationship between the King and Anna is not always smooth, they bantered, a lot. It was unavoidable since she is a woman with so much knowledge of the modern world, while the King's thought is still traditional, even though he wants to modernize his country. This musical is one of my favorite Rodgers and Hammerstein's musicals all time, right after The Sound of Music (we'll get to it later). The musical numbers are mixed from traditional Thailand tunes to polka and they're brilliant. I have nothing to say, except that I love this show so much.

7. Me and Juliet (1953)
This is the first musical comedy written by Rodgers and Hammerstein and it tells a story of romance at the backstage of a long-running musical, Larry who's an assistant stage manager and chorus girl, Jeanie. The format of the story is "show-within-the-show", which is a literary device in which one character within a narrative himself narrates. Due to complex and expensive staging, negative reviews from opening night saying the plot was weak and uninteresting, and exhausted in advanced sales, this show closed and marked as another Rodgers and Hammerstein failure. The director of the musical who was one of the top musical comedy directors at that time, George Abbott said that the reasons the show was failed are Rodgers and Hammerstein's overconfidence to thought themselves as Broadway's golden boys who could do no wrong and the play-within-the-play format, which hadn't been thought out by anyone.

8. Pipe Dream (1955)
It's based on John Steinbeck's short novel Sweet Thursday. It tells the romance between a marine biologist named Doc and a prostitute named Suzy. This musical, again, was a flop and financial disaster. Such a bad follow up from Me and Juliet. Reviews said that Rodgers and Hammerstein was too gentlemanly to be dealing with Steinbeck's sleazy and raffish denizens. They accepted the blame for themselves and learned the lesson, that if you start with a bad idea, everything is marred by that. Well, perhaps, John Steinbeck's works wasn't made for musical theatre at all.

9. Cinderella (1957)
Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella is one and only musical written by them for television. It's based on the tale, Cinderella, which is very close to our childhood heart. A young woman who's trapped in a house of evil stepmother and stepsisters, and dreams of a better life. A fairy godmother then comes and transforms her into a princess to go to the Prince's ball. It was broadcast live on CBS and viewed by more than 100 million people. The musical was remade for television twice, in 1965 and 1997. In 2013, a Broadway adaptation was opened with the new book by Douglas Carter Beane. I love the musical numbers, especially the overture, the best of all their overtures in my opinion. I seemed to like the new book by Douglas Carter Beane more, since it has richer plot than the usual Cinderella story like on the original. And God, I love the beautiful and catchy musical numbers so much.

10.  Flower Drum Song (1958)
The musical is based on The Flower Drum Song novel by C.Y. Lee. The story revolves around Wang Ta, who is torn between his Chinese origins and the American culture assimilation in San Fransisco. It was made into a movie in 1961. The show was a success when it was first opened, but then it was rarely produced due to casting issues and the fear of Asian-American offended by the way they were portrayed in the musical. I admire the musical numbers which was more of an Eastern than oriental, making them easily stuck on your head because of its catchiness.

11. The Sound of Music (1959)
The final of their works together and my favorite musical of all time. It's based on the memoir of Maria von Trapp, The Story of the Trapp Family Singers. The Sound of Music tells us about the journey of Maria Rainer as a governess to the seven children of a widower, Austro-Hungarian Navy submarine Captain Georg von Trapp and then she falls in love with him. It was adapted to movies in 1965, starring Julie Andrews. I remembered my mother bought the movie for me when I was five and I watched it on repeat. My mother said that at five years old, I could sing Do Re Mi and Edelweiss. I assumed it probably sounded like a dying whale. The musical numbers are undoubtedly beautiful, like all of their works and can easily stuck in our head. I believe this is Rodgers and Hammerstein's most popular musical in their career, a perfect musical to put their long journey into a finale.

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