The Sounds of Music: Rodgers and Hammerstein

A young Maestro’s introduction to the music of Rodgers and Hammerstein

Anyone that TRULY knows me or has been unfortunate enough to suffer through the regalia of my childhood, knows that my career in music is due entirely to seeing the movie version of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical The Sound of Music. The movie was released in 1965 when I was only 8 years old. My dear mother Evelyn had the idea that we would spend a Sunday afternoon in Charleston, West Virginia’s Capitol Theater. Now, this was before the day of the “mega-plex theater”. A questionable innovation which allows you to watch one movie while experiencing apocalyptic bass rumbles emanating from theaters beside you. But that’s another story.

So there I was, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in my Sunday best. Excited for an afternoon in the air-conditioned comfort of my hometown’s movie palace. The opening of the film is iconic to the point where it doesn’t require description. Suffice it to say, from the moment the camera flew over the snow-capped mountains, focusing at last on Julie Andrews who opened her arms to the world and sang “The hills are alive with the sound of music”, I was hooked… big time.

The partnership of composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II revolutionized the development of the American Music Theater. Though they met while students at Manhattan’s Columbia University, collaborating on a 1920 Varsity Show Fly with Me, the world would have to wait until 1943 when their Oklahoma! opened at Broadway’s St. James Theater, winning a 1944 Pulitzer Prize. The partnership would continue and thrive for nearly 20 years, creating the stage musicals Carousel, Allegro, South Pacific, The King and I, Me and Juliet, Pipe Dream, Flower Drum Song, and The Sound of Music. State Fair was written for Hollywood, Cinderella for television. Collectively, their musicals garnered dozens of awards including Pulitzer Prizes; Tonys, Oscars, Emmys, and Grammys; and Drama Desk, Drama Critics’ Circle, Outer Critics’ Circle, Laurence Olivier, and Evening Standard Awards.

Hammerstein was born into a theatrical family. His father and uncle were successful theatrical producers and theater managers, his grandfather (for whom he was named) built 11 theaters and was an internationally respected opera impresario. The positive impact of Oscar Hammerstein II on musical theater continues to this day.  He was the lyricist for Show Boat, creating the poetry of “Ol’ Man River”, from Edna Ferber’s novel. Hammerstein and his family would “adopt” the young Stephen Sondheim when he and his mother moved from NYC to the farm country of Doylestown, Pennsylvania, mentoring the next generation of Broadway composers.

Rodgers was himself already an established, successful composer, enjoying a nearly twenty-year partnership with Lorenz Hart. This partnership created On Your Toes, Babes In Arms, I Married An Angel, The Boys From Syracuse, and Pal Joey. In addition to his outstanding output of 900 songs and 43 musicals, Rodgers was the first person to win what is considered the top American entertainment awards in television, recording, movies, and Broadway – an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony Award. He was also awarded a Pulitzer Prize, making him one of only two people to receive all five awards. (The composer of A Chorus Line, Marvin Hamlisch is the other.)

The Rodgers and Hammerstein partnership would end on August 23, 1960, when Oscar died of lung cancer. Working on the film version of The Sound of Music, his last song would be the much beloved Edelweiss.

I hope you’ll join me this Valentine’s Day, February 14th at 7:30 PM in Pensacola’s Saenger Theatre. It will be my honor to share my life-long appreciation and devotion to the works of Rodgers and Hammerstein. Along with our incredibly talented Artists in Residence, soprano, Andrea Baker, mezzo-soprano Christina Pezzarossi, tenor Alexander Scheuermann, baritone Corey Gaudreau, the Pensacola Opera Chorus, the University of West Florida Singers, the Pensacola Children’s Chorus, and the Pensacola Symphony Orchestra, all of our collective hearts – yours, mine and the performers – will be blessed by the sound of music.

Don’t miss your chance to fall in love again this Valentine’s Day with Some Enchanted Valentine. Tickets are on sale now and we are running a BOGO sale (Buy One, Get One free) when you purchase tickets online using the promo code ENCHANTED.

-Jerome Shannon, Artistic Director

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