Vancouver Symphony Pops

Rodgers and Hammerstein

Date 3 - 4 February 2006, 20.00 Venue Orpheum Theatre Reviewer Ed Farolan

Erich Kunzel

The VSO Pops series treated the February 3rd Vancouver audience with a delightful, nostalgic look at Broadway musicals by Richard Rodgers (1902–79) and Oscar Hammerstein II (1895–1960). These two formed one of the most successful and creative teams in American musical theatre history. Rodgers wrote the music, and Hammerstein wrote the lyrics with arrangements by Robert Russell Bennett (1894 - 1981), also known as a lyricist, composer and orchestrator.

Conducting the VSO, Erich Kunzel brought with him his expertise and his 40-year experience as music director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. He also brought with him two of his best students from the Musical Department of the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (CCM), Baritone Michael Lowe and Tenor Billy Tighe who delighted the audience with his hula dancing antics in the South Pacific segment of the program. The third singer was Kathleen Brett, soprano, awarded in 1991 as best Canadian singer at the International Glory of Mozart Competition. She has performed with every major Canadian orchestra and has won many other prestigious awards.

The evening started with Kunzel saying that Vancouver is the "most beautiful city in North America (applause) where it rarely rains" (laughter). He gave the audience educational tidbits about R and H saying that before Rodgers and Hammerstein began collaborating, Rodgers wrote songs with Lorenz Hart and they wrote a number of successful musicals— Rodgers being the workaholic and Hart, the alcoholic.

In 1940, the Theater Guild of New York City asked Rodgers to compose a new musical. Rodgers met with Hart first, but Hart was unable to work, and so, Rodgers contacted Oscar Hammerstein, and that was the beginning of a beautiful musical relationship. Hart died in 1943..

Oklahoma!, Rodgers and Hammerstein's first musical collaboration, opened in 1943. Their musicals were very different from most musicals written up to that time. Musicals were mainly songs and comedy, with little plot. The songs usually had little to do with the story. Oklahoma! and their other works had plots. Rodgers's background was mostly in the old-style, "fun" musicals, while Hammerstein's background was in opera and operetta—more "serious" types of music.

And according to Kunzel, another distinction from the fun-loving musicals of Broadway is that there was always a tragic aspect to their plots - death of one of their characters. Another working relationship that was different was that when Rodgers worked with Hammerstein, Rodgers created the music to fit his lyrics. In most cases, it's the other way around. When Rodgers worked with Hart, he wrote the music first, and then Hart wrote the lyrics.

Kunzel brought us on a chronological tour of Rodgers and Hammerstein's compositions. First, Oklahoma!, followed by Carousel (arr. Walter Paul), South Pacific, Victory at Sea, Cinderella, and finally, Sound of Music, all of which were made into movies

The audience, composed mainly of seniors, were nostalgically brought back to the hits of the 40s with Oklahoma! (which became the official anthem of this state) and other song hits like "Oh What a Beautiful Morning,""People will say we're in love," and "I'm just a girl who can't say no" flawlessly rendered by the three singers.

Rodgers and Hammerstein's next big hit was Carousel, in 1945. The best-known song from this musical is "You'll Never Walk Alone." The other popular hit "If I loved You" sung beautifully by Tighe and Brett.

South Pacific, written in 1949, and based on stories by novelist James A. Michener, is set during the Second World War. It has the most serious plot of any Rodgers and Hammerstein show because it confronts both war and racism. South Pacific won a Pulitzer Prize. This musical had a lot of hits: "Dites-moi porquoi", "Cockeyed optimist", "Some enchanted evening", "Bloody Mary", "There is nothing like a dame", "Bali Hai", "I'm gonna get that man outta my hair", "I'm in love with a wonderful guy". "Younger than springtime", "Happy talk" and "This nearly was mine".

The King and I (1951) popularized in the movie starring Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr, and the latest version with Jodie Foster and Fat Choy, immortalized "Getting to Know You", "Hello Young Lovers", "I have dreamed". "We kiss in the shadows:, "Shall we dance", and "I Whistle a Happy Tune." Again, the audience was delighted by the rendition of the three singers with these popular hits.

Victory at Sea (1952-53) was a 13-hour commission by RCA records which played on radio in 30-minute segments. These was a straight concert with no vocals.

Cinderella (1957) was composed by Rodgers who was then tagged as the Waltz King of America, according to Kunzel, for this TV show.

Rodgers and Hammerstein's final collaboration was The Sound of Music in 1959. The theme song was popularized by Julie Andrews in the film with the same title; it was sung by Brett and you'd swear you were listening to Andrews. "Climb every mountain", reminiscent of "You'll never walk alone" (Carousel), was sung with breathtaking purity by the three singers, as well as the beautiful song "Edelweiss" which was the last song Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote together. Hammerstein died of cancer in 1960.

As mentioned earlier, most of the musicals of Rodgers and Hammerstein were made into movies and are available on video or DVD. A new production of Oklahoma! opened on Broadway in New York City in March of 2002, just in time to celebrate Richard Rodgers's one hundredth birthday.

This was a fun evening. It ended with a sing-along where Kunzel invited cast and audience to sing three songs: "I believe in music,""Sing a song," and "When the saints come marching in."


2006 Ed Farolan