The Pre-Requisite For Having A Dream Come True Is Having A Dream - Richard Rodgers’ centenary at the Proms
centenary at the Proms
I was in great
pain as I ran up the stairs to get
to the arena. I jumped on the steps
and broke my big left toe
a graceful entrance! Because I had
all my bags with me one of the stewards
wanted to throw me out. I was in pain
as my toe was throbbing but as soon
as the concert started I felt ok!
My Favourite Things
of the centenary so far was the joyful
evening at the Proms Royal Albert
Hall, with the BBC Concerts Orchestra,
conducted by David Charles Abell.
The first item on the programme was
Babes in Arms overture 1937,
with lyricist Lorenzo Hart. Rodgers
and Hart had perfected the creation
of wonderful music from 1925-1942,
coming to an end with Harts
death in 1943 at the age of 48. Hart
became too alcohol-ravaged to work.
Rodgers met Hart when he was 16 and
Hart was 23. Rodgers wrote afterwards,
I left Harts house having
acquired in one afternoon a career,
a partner, a best friend, and a source
of permanent irritation. To
my disappointment, my two favourite
hits they composed together, The Lady
and the Tramp and My Funny Valentine,
were not played at the Proms tribute
to Rodgers. I like the Lady and the
Tramp because I identified with the
Lady and I like the intense lyrics
of My Funny Valentine. I listened
to these tunes all throughout my twenties.
The second piece was
Victory at Sea Symphonic Scenario
1952 composed for a TV program documentary
called Victory at Sea. Robert Russell
Bennett worked on this piece as he
did for many of Rodgers works.
Such as On Your Toes Slaughter
on Tenth Avenue (1936). On Your Toes
was choreographed by George Balanchine.
Rodgers had also worked for ballet
with Agnes de Milles and Jerome Robbins.
In 1939 he wrote Ghost Town for The
Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo.
After the interval the
entire second half was devoted to
Oklahoma! (1943). This particular
concert was adapted by William Hammerstein.
The play was to celebrate the founding
of the state of Oklahoma. It was a
new genre, the advent of musicals
(hitherto called operettas or musical
comedies or musical plays)
a fusion of Rodgers music and
Hammersteins lyrics. Agnes De
Milles choreographed it, with Maureen
Lipman as Aunt Eller (the role she
had played in the revival of Oklahoma!
at the National Theatre in 1998).
The orchestrations were from the 1955
Hollywood film version (directed by
Fred Zinnermann). In the middle of
the performance at the Proms, the
American flag, cowboy hats, and scarves
featuring the American symbol of stars
and stripes were very much evident
and I think that the audience was
dreaming that they, too, were on their
way to Oklahoma!.
The Man in Red
was there in his Bordeaux wine coloured
ensemble, this time with a matching
hat of course from the USA
he told me at the interval.
The programme contained
the text of Oklahoma! so we could
follow along with the concert. This
is one part that I liked:
Curly: Oklahoma! Where
the wind comes sweepin down
the plain. And the wavin wheat
spanned for sure smell when the wind
comes right behind the rain. Oklahoma,
circles in the sky. We know we belong
to the land. And the land we belong
to is grand! And when we say
YEOW! A-YIP-O-EE-AY! We are only sayin,
Youre doin fine, Oklahoma!
This was the first musical
that Rodgers composed with the librettist
Oscar Hammerstein (1895-1960). Hammerstein
also wrote the lyrics from Jerome
Kerns 1927 operetta Show Boat.
He was a dramatist. I always cry when
they start Ol Mans River.
I think of my mother towards the end
of her life and the appropriate words
of the song: I gets weary
and sick of tryin. Im
tired of livin and Im
scared of dyin.
After Oklahoma! Rodgers
and Hammerstein had a string of big
hits on Broadway, in the West End
and all over he world. Their hits
are as follows: Carousel, 1954 (Rodgers
favourite of all his musicals), Allergro,
1947; South Pacific, 1949; The King
and I, 1951; Me Juliet, 1953; Pipe
Dream, 1955; Flower Drum Song, 1958
and The Sound of Music, 1959. For
the big screen their hit was State
Fair, 1945 (which was re-made in 1962).
For TV their hit was Cinderella, 1957,
which was re-made in 1997. They earned
37 Tony Awards, 15 Academy Awards,
2 Pulitzer Prizes, 2 Grammy Awards
and 2 Emmy Awards. In 1999 they were
commemorated on the US postage stamp.
Richard Charles Rodgers
was born in New York City on 28 June
1902. He came from a family of Russian-Jewish
emigrants, like the Gershwins
and Irving Berlin. Rodgers' musical
roots probably derived from the Viennese
operetta. His career spanned more
than six decades. In the 20s
and 30s, Rodgers lived in London
and his shows were staged at The Theatre
Royal, Drury Lane. Between 1931 and
1935, Rodgers and Hammerstein were
in Hollywood, where they wrote the
scores of several films like Love
Me Tonight, starring Maurice Chevalier,
Hallelujah and Im a Bum (which
were written for Al Jolson) and they
composed the score for Billy Roses
Circus Extravaganza, Jumbo.
death, which was caused by cancer
of the stomach, Rodgers composed No
Strings (1962) and Do I Hear a Waltz
(1965) for the Broadway stage. Rodgers
died at home in New York City on 30
December 1979 at 77 years old. Posthumously
on Broadway, the 46th Street Theatre
was re-named the Richard Rodgers Theatre.
It contains The Richard Rodgers Gallery,
with a permanent exhibit in the lobby
honouring his life and work.
Falling in love with
this composer is fairly easy for he
has written over 900 songs and 40
Broadway shows. Ella Fitzgerald recorded
her Rodgers and Hart songbook in 1956.
Cole Porter included in his music
the words Well Did you Evah:
Its smooth! Its smart!
Its Rodgers! Its Hart!
AHHHHH!!!! Benny Green said, Of
the thousands of musicians who still
approach Rodgers-and-Hart with eagerness
of kindred spirits, there is hardly
one who warms to Rodgers-and-Hammerstein.
As for the vast armies who continue
to march on the great Rodgers-and-Hammerstein
set pieces, their knowledge of Rodgers-and-Hart
is vague to the brink of indifference.
Even the Mamas and Papas, Barbara
Streisand, and Janis Joplin have sung
Rodgers and Hammerstein songs and,
believe it or not, Sophia Loren has
too. Hart and Rodgers wrote the best
of the American popular songs and
with Hammerstein they gained a permanent
place in musical theatre.
I saw an interview on
TV with Rodgers daughters. Mary Rodgers,
the protective keeper of the Rodgers
and Hammerstein estate said this about
her father, He drank; he was
depressed; he slept around. So? These
sides of him were not relevant. He
was only what he wrote. At the
Radio 3 tribute she said, My
father had to lock Larry in while
they were working, otherwise hed
escape. Then she said,
I had no idea my father had a drinking
problem until I was an adult.
Just image, Rodgers
estate still licenses 4,000 productions
of his shows each year. The Gala Celebration
in London brought in Judi Dench to
sing I am Sixteen Going on Seventeen.
My personal celebration was at the
National Theatre in London to see
South Pacific (the 1949 Broadway hit).
I went armed with a bag of tissues.
It is a very romantic musical of love
and death in World War II featuring
racism, war, and death looming large
and destructive. The film won and
Oscar in 1958 for best sound (filmed
with Mitzi Gaynor as Nurse Nellie
and the glamorously greying Rossano
Brazzi in the role of Emile de Becque).
Who could ever forget these songs?
Some Enchanted Evening, This Nearly
was Mine and, of course, Im
Going to Wash that Man Right Outta
My Hair. South Pacific has been performed
around the world in more than 25,000
versions. Ian Johns wrote,
Logan and Oscar Hammerstien based
the show on two stories from James
Micheners 1947 collection of
gritty wartime stories, Tales of the
South Pacific, in which naval nurse
Nellie Forbush and moody lieutenant
Joe Cable face up to their prejudices.
Nellie falls for fugitive French planter
Emile de Becque but is shocked to
find that he has fathered two Polynesian
children. Cable realises too late
that it is only prejudice that keeps
him from true love, a Tonkinese girl,
in the anti-racist anthem Youve
got to be Carefully Taught.
Here is an excerpt from
the song. Youve got to
be taught to be afraid of people whose
eyes are oddly made or skin is of
a different shade, youve got
to be carefully taught. This
was an issue of inter-racial romance
at a time when miscegenation was still
illegal in certain American states.
The story tells of prejudice and military
action because it was a crucial point
in the war against Japan. Hammerstein
was also very active in the anti-fascist
and Popular Front movements in 1930s
Hollywood, including the Anti-Nazi
League. The Sound of Music also has
an anti-fascist manifesto.
Kite, the South Pacific
set designer said, Oscars
huge contribution was courage, combined
with important moral conviction and
knowing how to make that work theatrically.
He also said, The final scene
serves as the musical ideological
centre because it shows that Americans
can overcome racism and that this
will enable them to move into the
Pacific with a clear conscience.
South Pacific shows the evil of racism
but has a positive ending. It ran
for five years on Broadway and won
the Pulitzer Prize for drama. The
sound track of the film sold 5 million
copies. I ended up with a lump in
my throat as I sat an watched the
The King and I, which
I recently saw at the London Palladium,
is similar to South Pacific, an attempt
to understand the developing relationship
between Asia and America. It was the
two Dorothys (the wives of Rodgers
and Hammerstein) who after reading
Margaret Landons novel Anna
and the King of Siam tried to convenience
their husbands that the story would
make a good show. But it was not on
the advice of their wives that they
created the show but rather the advice
of the well-known Broadway star, Gertrude
Lawrence. The show opened on Broadway
in 1951. During the run of the show
Gertrude died of leukaemia. They tried
to cast Harrison or Noel Coward for
the role of the king, but in the end
it was given to Yul Brynner. It ran
on Broadway for 3 years but Brynner
played the role until 1985. He won
a special Tony Award for the role.
In London, at the London Palladium
in 1979, Brynner played opposite Virginia
McKenna. But the version that I personally
remember and love is the hugely successful
film version in 1956 starring Deborah
Kerr. (I read in the newspaper the
other day that someone had complained
that Deborah Kerr had not been made
a Dame.) The songs from the film were
actually sung by Marnie Nixon. In
the London productions of the show,
the roles were played by Stacy Keach,
Rudolf Nureyev, Susan Hampshire, Jeanette
MacDonald, Angela Lansbury and Ricardo
Montalban. There was even a revival
film in 1999 of Anna and the King
starring Jodie Foster and Chow Yun-Fat.
Charles Spencer wrote: There
is something faintly offensive, even
racist, about the story of a well-bred,
stiff-upper-lip British schoolmarm
giving a funny foreign despot a lesson
in good manners and decency. The shows
whole attitude to the exotic East
is faintly patronising
relationship between the king and
his schoolmistress also deepens and
darkens with touches of disturbing
but affecting emotional masochism
that was the forte of Rodgers and
I still continually
have in my head Getting to Know You,
Shall We Dance and I Whistle a Happy
Tune. In the story the love of the
governess and king is not consummated
and he dies. AHHHH!!!! Not a happy
ending. The Palladium version, which
I saw, originated in Australia in
1991, it was on Broadway for 2 years
and then at the West End. Jerome Robbins
choreographed the ballet for the story
in the show of Uncle Toms Cabin
using Chinese operatic style extremely
well and with great humour.
AHHHH! All their melodies
touch the heart and lift the spirits.
I hope you will find happiness
as I have listening to the
incredible beautiful music of Rodgers
and Hammerstein. Music, after all,
is the most important thing in life.
I leave you today with 2 things. One
a YEOW from Oklahoma!
Secondly, with Bloody Mary from South
Pacific, The pre-requisite for
having a dream come true is having
a dream. You all know that my
dream is sexy eyebrows.
I touched them once and I dream of
touching them again while the radio
plays Love Me Tonight, Isnt
it Romantic and Getting to Know You.
If Some Enchanted Evening takes much
longer to arrive I shall have to Wash
(sexy eyebrows) Right Outta My Hair!