Something Wonderful, Rogers and Hammerstein’s Broadway Revolution by Todd S. Purdam (Henry Holt & Company, 2018) has been praised in The N.Y. Times as “a reminder of the bold breadth of the business, in the Broadway sense, of the Rogers and Hammerstein partnership.” (The book’s title is taken from Hammerstein’s lyrics for one of the team’s hit songs in the The King & I.)
Composer Richard Rogers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein III need little introduction. After all, who among us did not grow up listening to the timeless songs from such memorable shows as Oklahoma!, Carousel, The Sound of Music, The King & I, South Pacific and others?
Leonard Bernstein once wrote, “Rogers was the most imitated songwriter of our time. He established new levels of taste, distinction, simplicity in the best sense, and inventiveness.” We’re reminded in the book that, typically, Hammerstein wrote the lyrics first, then Rogers composed the music. Since the lyrics so perfectly fit the music, it’s difficult to imagine their being written initially without the melodies! Clearly, Hammerstein was a poet at heart with a wonderful sense of rhyme and rhythm.
People who knew Hammerstein praise him enthusiastically. Composer and lyricist Steven Sondheim, for example, describe him as a “generous and monumental figure,”a person who was humble, compassionate and confident in the powers of love. Sometimes criticized for being a sentimentalist, Hammerstein explained, ”The things we’re sentimental about are the fundamental things in life, the birth of a child, falling in love … I couldn’t be anything but sentimental about those basic things.”
In a tribute to Hammerstein in The Wall Street Journal over the 2018 Easter weekend, Peggy Noonan wrote: “Moral modesty and candor in an individual are wonderful to see. In our public figures , especially our political ones, they are hard to find these days.”
As an aside, we mention that yet another Rodgers & Hammerstein revival of Carousel has just opened on Broadway at the Imperial Theatre—a testament to Rodgers and Hammerstein’s enduring appeal. The New York Times stellar review reads : “The real spinning in this production is love. That for better or worse, is what makes Nature churn— and the world go ’round— in this show’s blissful, anguished universe.” The voices are operatic. They include renowned opera soprano, Renee Fleming, playing the role of Nettie—mother of lead character Julie Jordan, performed by Jessie Mueller . African-American actor Joshua Henry, playing carousel barker Billy Bigelow, has a voice described as “heaven rumbling.”
The 1956 movie version, starring Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones, introduced us to the world of Broadway musicals—and to Rodgers & Hammerstein. Carousel‘s poignant narrative of physical and spiritual love, redemption and forgiveness swept us away. It still does.